An Aboriginal Voice Through Art and Story
Authored by Norman Miller
Bronze Medal Winner
2016 IPPY Awards
Renbro Publishing, May 2015. ISBN 9781925198058
As you turn the pages of this book, you will notice the greens and blues of the rainforest, reef and rivers, as well as the red and yellow ochre of the earth. Munganbana’s work embraces two World Heritage listed environments — the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef, along with coastal mangroves. Each of the works is accompanied by short personal and cultural stories where the artist shares his inspiration for creating the work. This contextualisation of the art helps increase both appreciation and understanding of Munganbana’s work in particular and Indigenous art in general.
Munganbana’s art is also motivated by his commitment to reconciling Indigenous peoples with the broader Australian society. His work has been seen in other publications but this book is now solely dedicated to his art.
Some of the paintings included in this book have attracted great interest and are part of collections around the world, including the Queensland Museum. Munganbana blends centuries-old tradition with the present, giving his work a contemporary relevance.
Munganbana’s work in creating this book is a perfect example of … connection to country. He has combined his personal, ancestral and spiritual experiences with a mix of traditional and contemporary art styles to help give us a greater understanding of the beauty, history and importance of the Reef and Rainforest.
Sheriden Morris, Managing Director
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre
Now recognised among the foremost talents of this region’s outstanding Indigenous artists, Munganbana’s “Reef and Rainforest: An Aboriginal Voice Through Art and Story” is representative of the body of visual art, in a variety of media and styles, created over a period of some twenty-five years.
Henrietta Marrie, Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Elder and Traditional Owner of Gimuy-Cairns
Munganbana’s book showcases the beautiful rainforest and its wildlife that we are privileged to protect … It is a unique area and to have on of the cultural custodians of the land, in the form of renowned rainforest Aboriginal artist Munganbana depict it, is very exciting.
Dr Paul Chantrill, Program Manager
Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Despite having a distinct and striking visual language, epitomised by the designs on the traditional shields exclusive to the Wet Tropic rainforests of northeast Queensland, the art of the rainforest Aboriginal peoples, bama as we are generally known among ourselves, has long been overshadowed in the Australian Indigenous art world in favour of the tradition-based work from Arnhem Land and the Western Desert, and a flourishing body of works by southern urban-based Aboriginal artists. The Queensland Art Gallery’s break-through exhibition Story Place: Indigenous Art of Cape York and the Rainforest did not occur until 2003. The work of Munganbana Norman Miller was among that of the eight bama artists representing the people of the rainforests in this exhibition.
Now recognised among the foremost talents of this region’s outstanding Indigenous artists, Munganbana’s Reef and Rainforest: An Aboriginal Voice Through Art and Story is representative of the body of visual art, in a variety of media and styles, created over a period of some twenty-five years since graduating from the Associate Diploma of Art Course at Cairns TAFE in 1990 under the watchful and encouraging eye of art teacher and mentor extraordinaire, Anna Eglitis. A Jirrbal man with connections to Bar-Barrum and Yidinji country in the Atherton Tablelands region of Tropical North Queensland, Munganbana, a prolific artist with a string of awards and commissions to his credit and whose works are represented in many national collections and featured in both art catalogues and journals, observes and documents in his art the culture of the Jirrbal nation in particular, and that of the bama of the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef more generally.
His selection of artworks and accompanying stories in this volume is a moving tribute to his traditions and family. It represents both a body of knowledge and ethical code for living handed down, and a medium for instructing following generations of bama. Combining his inherited knowledge, his innate powers of observation of the natural world he and his people inhabit and his aesthetic sensibilities, Munganbana offers us through art and story insights into the defining characteristics of First Nations peoples everywhere – your connections to your ‘mob’ and your country.
Munganbana is also a passionate advocate for natural and social justice for Australia’s First Nations peoples and a seeker of spiritual healing and justice for all. Together with his wife Barbara, through art and action they have promoted the cause of reconciliation between the country’s first inhabitants and those who have come to colonise the country and take over the land since 1788. Their quest for truth and reconciliation has also extended to actively campaigning for recognition of the country’s First Peoples in the Australian Constitution, and Munganbana has devoted much of his artistic output in recent years to expressing and promoting these causes.
I am deeply honoured to present this volume of art and story of my friend and Yidinji countryman, Munganbana, which testifies to his commitment to culture, respect for family, untiring quest for social justice through reconciliation and constitutional recognition of our First Nations peoples, and hope for a better world for all enlightened by a rekindled respect for universal spiritual values and for the sanctity of the Earth Our Mother.
Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Elder and Traditional Owner of Gimuy-Cairns
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Patron First Nations
Writing this coffee table art book, and seeing a good collection of his art works in print, is a dream come true for Norman (Munganbana). He has been prolific over the last 20 years and this book does not capture all of his work. Some works sold without photos being taken. A steady stream of international buyers has passed through his art gallery over the years as Cairns is a tourist city.
He is ever the artist, ever the dreamer, ever the visionary. However he is also someone who puts legs on his visions and who fulfils his dreams through passion, energy and hard work. I am always at his side, helping him to fulfil his dreams and he helps me to fulfil mine. He is the love of my life.
How did this book come about? I had written my second book called ”The European Quest to Find Terra Australis Incognita: Quiros, Torres and Janszoon” and launched it in Cairns. I wanted to launch it elsewhere in Australia so Norman told me I needed to launch it on a boat. I thought where in Australia would I find an appropriate boat? In a flash I thought of the “Duyfken” replica in Freemantle harbour. It is a little known story that Janszoon and the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on Australian soil around the Mapoon, Weipa, Aurukun area 164 years before Captain Cook. Through this picturesque launch, Norman met the contact that introduced him to his publishers.
Looking at Munganbana’s work with the vibrant colours and intriguing style, the reader may think that all his life he painted with the reef and rainforest in mind for the purpose of this book. In fact he painted what inspired him from the landscape, seascape and wildlife around him and his memories of growing up in his cultural environment. Only when we surveyed his huge volume of work did we realize that it reflected the two world heritage areas of reef and rainforest we are blessed to live in.
The painting of the turtle in “River Deep” was Munganbana’s first logo for his Munganbana Aboriginal Art Gallery he set up in 1996. It was in gold and brown colours and he used it to make a metal tile that was inserted in a walkway at West End in Brisbane as part of a community art project. Norman’s fantails are not just a trademark on his art work but he has them on colourful batiks.
When Norman asked me to write this foreword, I wondered what to say. The word that kept coming to my mind over and over again was the word “integrity.” He is honest and has strong moral principles and his walk with God impacts every area of his life including his art. His compassion and understanding are huge. His love of family and community flow through his paintings as does his sense of social responsibility and wanting to make the world a better place to live.
One of the things I love about his artwork is the sense of enjoyment of life he sees in the nature he paints. The starfish dances with abandon, the clownfish gently dances with the sea anemone, turtles are doing a corroboree in the water, the dolphin playfully breaks the waters and leaps into the air, the dugongs move gracefully, the brolgas dance to the didjeridoo, painted for corroboree, emus dance to celebrate motherhood and the kookaburra is laughing as it acts as a bush alarm clock. There is such a sense of movement in much of his other work as well.
By Barbara Miller, BA (Hons) Psych, Gr Dip Sociology, MAPS
Profile – Munganbana Norman Miller
Munganbana (Mountain Water in Jirrbal) is of the Jirrbal, Bar-Barrum and Tableland Yidinji tribes of the North Queensland rainforest, a world heritage listed area. His work, which is in collections around the world, reflects the inspiration he draws from the reef, the rainforest, his family, culture and spiritual beliefs. He specializes in acrylic on canvas and limited edition lino prints.
In 2016, he won an International Independent Publishers book award (IPPY) in the Multicultural Non-fiction Adult category for his coffee table art book called Reef and Rainforest: An Aboriginal Voice Through Art and Story (Renbro, Sept 2015). He picked up the bronze medal personally in Chicago May 2016. This follows work he has in four coffee table art books – Demozay, Marion (ed.) Gatherings: Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art from Queensland Australia 2001 and her Gatherings 11 in 2006. His paintings were in the Gatherings Exhibition 2001 for CHOGM Brisbane. He had paintings in the book and related exhibition Story Place: Indigenous Art of Cape York and the Rainforest Qld Art Gallery 2003 and his art was also in Eglitis, Anna et al 2000.
Munganbana won the inaugural Oceania Art Prize in 2006, received a Qld Arts Fellowship in 1992 and has had his work in many exhibitions and galleries over the years including the Hamburg Museum Germany and the Queensland Museum where his traditional shields are part of the Oodgeroo Collection. For many years he had the only Aboriginal artist owned gallery in Cairns.
Some of the paintings in his latest book were exhibited in the 2015 UMI Arts Reef and Rainforest exhibition. Munganbana blends centuries-old tradition with the present, giving his work a contemporary relevance. HIs work speaks of what he sees, what he values and how he interprets his lived world through shape and colour, form and style. You will see the greens and blues of the rainforest, reef and rivers as well as the red and yellow ochre of the earth in his art.
His book has stories for each painting that give voice to his inspiration for the artwork. Walking barefoot on the land, he says he walks and paints the journey of his stories from childhood till now.
Connection to country is important to Munganbana as an Indigenous author and artist and he wanted to paint his homeland and the animals, birds, plants and sea life that inhabit it. Through this he shows some of the life of his people, history and culture. Rainforest Aboriginal art is coming into its own now, standing alongside the desert art that art lovers have become used to.