The title of Whiskey’s latest painting, Seven Sistas Sign (2021), is a play on words. It refers to the story of the Seven Sisters, Kungkarangkalpa , a significant Tjukurpa (ancestral story) for the Aṉangu people, as well as for many other language groups and communities across Australia. Centred on the constellations of Pleiades and Orion, it describes the seven sisters keeping each other safe and protecting one another as they are chased across the night sky by a bad man.
Whiskey paints this big story using her recurring characters:
Aṉangu Kungka (Aṉangu woman) is growing the mingkulpa (bush tobacco), she’s going to sell it with her kangaroo friend. Whoopi Goldberg as the nun from Sister Actis there too, getting ready for the party to get started soon. Cher is bringing tjala(honey ants) to the party… That’s Tina Turner wearing big yellow wings like a pinta-pinta (butterfly). Wonder Woman is really excited to meet Dolly Parton… Dolly is getting ready to sing under the shiny disco-ball and Catwoman is already dancing. ‘Careful not to step on the maku(witchetty grub), Cat-lady!’
Whiskey’s seven feminist icons stand in for the strength and resilience of Whiskey’s own community of sistas: “Our art centre is full of strong women… we’ve all got each other’s back, we support each other, and we love to have fun together too.”
For Seven Sistas Sign, Whiskey painted directly onto a road sign that once marked the highway turnoff to Iwantja Arts and Crafts Centre. Whiskey has reclaimed the sign from a time when Aboriginal art was only bought or considered part of the souvenir trade for travelling tourists – a period of history when Aboriginal communities and culture were exploited for profit. Today, Iwantja is closed to tourists. It’s artists, just like Whiskey, are now at the forefront of contemporary art in Australia.
Kylie Neagle and Lisa Slade, “Kungkarangkalpa – Seven Sisters: APY Lands Women’s Collaborative.” Interpretative Resource, 2017, p2
Kaylene Whiskey, Tarnanthi Catalogue 2021, p124
Kaylene Whiskey, Tarnanthi Catalogue 2021, p124
Sometimes artists will use alternative surfaces for creating works of art – materials that can’t be purchased at an art supply store. Whiskey has painted directly onto a road sign that once marked the highway turnoff to Iwantja Arts and Craft Centre. The use of discarded metal objects has also been used by Anmatyerre artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye in Untitled, 1992, which is in the Gallery’s collection. Yolŋu artist Gunybi Ganambarr who featured in Tarnanthi in 2019 pioneered the metal etching technique where unwanted road signs and metal from old water tanks were used as the surface for his work.
- Explore works of art in Murrŋiny (see virtual exhibition). Compare these works by Yolŋu artists from Yirrkala to those created by Whiskey.
Tip: Look at Gäṉgän by Gunybi Ganambarr. You may also like to look at by Murrŋiny– a story of metal from the east at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art in Darwin
- Whiskey is from Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands roughly 1200km northwest of Adelaide and the Yolŋu artists are from Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Despite being located in very different regions of Australia, both artists are working with discarded metal. Why have these artists used road signs as the surface for their works? How are these works similar and different, conceptually as well as how they look?
- Locate a discarded object or surface. It could be a piece of wood, cardboard, plastic or metal. Create a work of art on this surface which communicates something about where this object was found. Depending on the material you could paint on to it, or etch or carve into it.
Read more about Murrŋiny:
Whiskey’s use of space in her paintings resembles comic strips. Create a comic strip painting about your family as hybrid-superheroes. Brainstorm the characteristics of people in your family. You might like to research existing superheroes and create a hybrid of these characters with people in your life - who is the Wonder Woman, Hulk or Joker in your family?
Whiskey’s seven feminist icons are symbols of strength and resilience. Investigate a female role model in your life. It might be someone you know personally in your family or community or it could be someone who influences you from sport or popular culture. Create a work of art that pays tribute to this person, capturing their strength, resilience and character. You may even like to transform this person into a superhero.
Twenty four women artists from across the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, located in the northwest of South Australia, collaborated to paint a large canvas depicting the Seven Sisters story known as Kungkarangkalpa.
This painting is about the constellations known in the west as Orion and Pleiades. The sisters are the Pleiades constellation and Orion is said to be (a bad man). Wati Nyiru is forever chasing the sisters. According to the story, the seven sisters travel again and again from the sky to the earth to escape the persistent and unwanted attentions of Wati Nyiru.
They turn into their human form to hide, but he always finds them and they flee back to the sky. As Wati Nyiru is chasing the sisters he tries to catch them by using magic to create the most tempting kampurarpra (bush tomatoes) for the sisters to eat and the most beautiful Ili (fig) tree for them to camp under. The sisters however, are too clever for Wati Nyiru and outwit him. They go hungry and run through the night rather than be caught by him.
Every now and again one of the women would fall victim to his ways. It is said that he eventually captures the youngest sister, but with the help of the oldest sister, she escapes back to her sisters who are waiting for her. Eventually the sisters fly back into the sky to escape Wati Nyiru, reforming the constellation.
Making and Responding
- Examine astronomical photographs of Pleiades. Compare these images to the painting Kungkarangkalpa – Seven Sisters. What similarities and differences do you notice?
- Compare Kungkarangkalpa to Seven Sistas Sign by Whiskey. Why do you think these artists have captured this story? What are the messages these artists are trying to send to younger generations?
- Research the feminist icons depicted in Whiskey’s painting. Who are these women and why do you think Whiskey chose to feature them specifically in her Seven Sistas Sign? Provide examples to support your response.
- Think about a tradition or belief that your parents or grandparents have passed down in your family. What are some things that are unique to your family? Create a painting that will help to keep your family tradition or belief strong for future generations.
- Wati Nyiru is described as a ‘bad man’ in the Seven Sisters story. Brainstorm a list of characters in other stories that feature a villain or an antihero. What characteristics do these villains or ‘bad men’ share? Use your list of your characteristics as inspiration for your own villain or antihero.
Tarnanthi is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia with Principal Partner BHP and support from the Government of South Australia
The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.
This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Dr. Belinda Howden, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.