Sally M. Nangala Mulda, (Arrernte/Southern Luritja people), and Marlene Rubuntja, (Arrernte/Western Arrarnta people), were the best of friends, growing up in Amoonguna settlement just north of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in the 1960’s. They spent day and night together, waking up to birdsong, going to school, getting up to mischief, they had a lot of fun. But their happy times were punctuated by the regular beating of drums reminding them of the institutionalised reforms that colonisation had brought to their community. Amoonguna settlement was established as a government reserve in 1963. First Nations people were forced to live under colonialist authority, conforming to policies that would inevitably worsen an already problematic situation. Government control and violence were realities that Sally and Marlene experienced throughout their lives and these truths are told through their work.

‘C’mon, Sally. Time for school.’

‘So we can march all day and line up for everything,’ moaned Sally.

Together, the girls walked to school and at the first sound of their teacher’s drum, they did have to march. They wore out their little legs marching around their school.

As the two girls grew, despite their bond, life took them different directions. Sally went south, closer to Mparntwe with her family, and Marlene went further north. The women each had their challenges and misfortunes to work through, and they both found peace in artistic practices. Sally is now an acclaimed painter, making pictures of her childhood in the town camp. In 2009, Marlene joined Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre, in Mparntwe, and developed her skills in soft sculpture, making beautiful birds, and figures made from felted wool and brightly coloured yarn.

One day Marlene visited Tangentyere Art Centre, also in Mparntwe, and spotted a woman making a painting of two girls on mats beside a campfire. Straightaway she recognised Sally. Like no time had passed, Sally and Marlene were together again! They began reminiscing about their childhood and making up for lost time.

Through their artistic practices Sally and Marlene reflect on the impacts of political intervention on their lives and their communities. However, they both tend to focus on joyful moments, like coming to work in the art centres, friendship, and love.

Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls is a collaboration between both artists and animated by Ludo Studio in a commission by ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) and Artbank. This commission supports Australian artists and filmmakers to create new and experimental work. Two Girls is the third and final outcome of the Artbank and ACMI commission.

Featuring vibrant paintings by Sally along with Marlene’s soft sculptures, the artists worked together to tell their story of enduring friendship. Younger family members have narrated the story for the two artists. Their differing personalities shine and are highlighted in the final scene of the film when they see their work projected on the sails of the Sydney Opera House as part of the Badu Gili: Wonder Women exhibition.

‘There we are, Sally,’ said Marlene. ‘Part of that Wonder Women exhibition.’

‘I’m not a wonder woman,’ said Sally.

‘I am!’ said Marlene.

‘We are Town Camp artists,’ said Sally. ‘Look there. Our name is written in the sky.’

Sally M. Mulda and Marlene Rubuntja with Courtney Collins.

Read more about the Artbank + ACMI commission, and past recipients here. *Note that some previous commissions contain mature themes.

Did you know

The title of the work Kungka Kutjara, Arrkutja Tharra, Two Girls reflects both artists' languages, Kungka Kutjara is Arrernte and Arrkutja Tharra is Luritja, both meaning two girls.

still: Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, single-channel digital video with sound, 6 minutes; Courtesy of ACMI, Artbank, Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

Badu Gili: Wonder Women

A collaboration between the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Sydney Opera House, Badu Gili: Wonder Women brings together the work of six female First Nations artists in a larger-than-life animation on the sails of the Opera House. Sally M. Nangala Mulda and Marlene Rubuntja are both featured in the exhibition.

Watch the Badu Gili: Wonder Women film and curator, Coby Edgar’s, introduction then discuss the connections you can make between each of the artist’s work.

  • Are the artists the Wonder Women, or are there other Wonder Women featured in the work?
  • What makes them Wonder Women?
  • Who are the Wonder Women in your life, and why?
  • Contributing artist, Kaylene Whiskey, from Iwantja Arts, has produced many works of art centred around Wonder Women. See our online resource here to dive deeper into Whiskey’s whimsical world.

still: Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, single-channel digital video with sound, 6 minutes; Courtesy of ACMI, Artbank, Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

‘When you’re an artist you gotta think in bright colours and lift things up,’ said Marlene.

‘And tell the truth,’ said Sally.

  • Pen pals. Write a letter to a long-lost friend. Perhaps you are out of touch due to your location geographically, perhaps you just spend more time with other people now and want to check in. Include an illustration of a fun time you shared.

    Don’t have a friend you miss? Make one up! Imagine your ideal soul mate, that person/or otherwise who just gets you.
  • Make a wearable soft sculpture. Marlene specialises in crafting birds. Design a motif that reminds you of a friend or family member. You could be inspired by nature like Marlene, or something completely different. Apply your image to fabric by drawing, lino-printing, or embroidering. Carefully cut around the edge of the image. Cut another piece of fabric the same shape and size to be the backing piece. Stitch or glue the edges together leaving a small opening to fill with scrap fabric, then close. Add further detail through stitching or gluing extra pieces of colourful fabric, beads, etc. Finally attach a pin to the back of your sculpture to so that you can fasten to your clothing, bag, or pencil case. Keep your memory close, or gift it to your friend as a memento of your special bond.
  • Be bold! Get your friends together to discuss the issues you are passionate about. You could be raising awareness, promoting a good news story or highlighting inequality. Brainstorm ways to get your message out and share your stories. Make some brightly coloured posters, hold a fluro dress up day, plan a flash mob.

still: Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, single-channel digital video with sound, 6 minutes; Courtesy of ACMI, Artbank, Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

Animate your life.

  • Start by planning the story. Think of a time when you have encountered a challenge and found a way to work through or rise above the situation. Find the silver lining or a way to have the last laugh. Like Sally and Marlene, ‘Think in bright colours and lift things up’ but also ‘Tell the truth’!
  • Storyboard your ideas to have a clear beginning, middle and end. Decide if you will narrate the film, create a soundtrack, or let the pictures do the talking.
  • Move onto creating the scenes and filming the content.
  • This activity could be completed individually, or as team with each student taking on a different role i.e., Art director, script writer, digital content producer, sound engineer, etc.
  • Take this further by staging a Short Film Festival at your school and planning the screening event.

Tip: Complete our Online PD session for a behind the scenes look at Tangentyere and Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centres and a demonstration from AGSA Education Coordinator, Kylie Neagle, on how to create an animated story with your mobile phone.

still: Arrkutja Tharra, Kungka Kutjara, Two Girls, single-channel digital video with sound, 6 minutes; Courtesy of ACMI, Artbank, Tangentyere Artists and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

Artists from Tangentyere and Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centres have a rich history of collaboration. The Art Centres, in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) have been pivotal in bringing community together and strengthening relations after an extend period of disruption. A place to for all generations to come together, keep culture alive, grow and share, Art Centres impact positively on the entire community.

See the following resources to learn more about their joint ventures and how they support each other to extend their art forms in new and exciting ways.

This education resource has been written in collaboration with Sally Lawrey, Tarnanthi Education Officer and Dr. Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs

Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.

AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.

All quotes from Tarnanthi 2023 Catalogue text, Sally M. Mulda and Marlene Rubuntja with Courtney Collins