Sally Gabori at the Milan Triennale

Fondation Cartier presents the first solo exhibition of the Aboriginal artist.

Once again the Milan Triennale offers a truly unique opportunity for a wonderful artistic journey. Thanks to the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, the first solo exhibition outside Australia of the Australian Aboriginal artist Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori can be visited until 14 May.

A unique project of its kind that focuses on the career of this extraordinary artist and underlines her cultural importance for the knowledge of the Kaiadilt community.

Imagine being transported to the other side of the hemisphere, to an “other” world, by nature, language and culture.

In this world it doesn’t matter “when” but where you are born, it doesn’t matter the individual, but the community to which you belong; in this world the name we carry tells of the place of birth, of the totemic animal that will accompany us in earthly life. This microcosm is called Bentinck Island, a small island of 240km2 in the Gulf of Carpentaria off the north coast of Australia. It is here that the Kaiadilt people lived and it is here that Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori was born, probably around the year 1924

The Kaiadilt were a community of 125 people in 1944, the year in which they came into contact with western civilization, whose life was marked by the activities of hunting, fishing and gathering the spontaneous fruits of nature; distant linguistically, culturally and anthropologically from any other population of the territories beyond the sea, the Kaiadilt are forced to emigrate to the island of Mornington in the northwest, in 1948 due to a powerful natural disaster

A short trip in terms of distance but boundless in cultural terms. The small population comes into contact for the first time with Western missionaries who impose their language, habits and culture. A stay destined to last until 2004, the year in which the island of Bentinck is finally recognized as the homeland of the Kaiadilt people. But the extraordinary nature of Sally Gabori’s work lies not only in the exceptional lyricism of the story of her people, but also in her astonishing personal artistic story. In 2005 when Sally she is about 80 years old she begins to attend an art workshop in the rest home where she is now hospitalized. From the moment she first picks up her brushes to the year of her death, Sally produces more than 2000 canvases of her, transfusing them with all the energy, the light, the terrible beauty of her distant land.

Since 2006 Sally’s works have been exhibited in important cultural institutions and in 2012 they won important awards. In 2013 the works of Sally Gabori are in Palazzo Bembo as part of the 55th Venice Art Biennale. Sally Gabori died in 2015 after completing a work for Brisbane International Airport.

In her short but intense artistic season, Sally has promoted art in her community and many Kaiadilt women have followed in her footsteps. Some of the canvases on display are collaborative works by Sally and some of the women in her family. They are the most colourful, most detailed canvases that tell the story of Sweers Island, in which the power of the vision of the work of seven hands expresses the attachment to the ancestral land to its maximum.

Sally Gabori, Amanda Gabori & Elsie Gabori Pat and Sally’s Country, 2011 Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 198 × 305 cm Patricia Roberts, Melbourne, Australia © The Estate of Sally Gabori. Photo © Simon Strong

In an absolutely primordial artistic expression, free from contamination and influences, Sally describes with her bright colors, with the materiality of her canvases, the history, the culture, the pain and the nostalgia of her lost world. You are the main places of her land told over and over again in the artist’s canvases, 4 of these are represented in the exhibition itinerary which, thanks to exceptional loans from important Australian museums, brings together 30 canvases of considerable size.

And so the section dedicated to Nyiniliki tells us about the freshwater lagoon, the Australian billabong, and about the particular pots made up of stone walls that the Kaiadilt women used to fish.

The one dedicated to Thundi is instead a continuous evocation of the birthplace of the artist’s father, and of the very particular atmospheric phenomena that characterize it, the so-called Morning Glories.

Dibirdibi Country, 2009 Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 200 × 600 cm Collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain © The Estate of Sally Gabori. Photo © Simon Strong

Dibirdibi’s central theme is the Kaiadilt cosmology, the birth of the Bentink island due to the rising seas.

Unconstrained by a pictorial tradition or a pre-existing lexicon of signs, Sally Gabori created a free language to express her need to perpetrate an ancient tradition, rejected by the modern world but which had long endured in her heart. A language that allowed her to live psychically in the “land” from which she had been separated, creating something grandiose, impressive and profoundly original.

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