Doreen Nakamarra Dickson

Australian Aboriginal Artist


Doreen Nakamarra Dickson

Born:                   1956
Region:               Tanami Desert
Community:         Willowra
Country:               Wantapari and Yurrkuru
Language Bloc:    Ngarrkic
Language:            Warlpiri
Medium/ Form:     Acrylic paint on canvas or linen

Subjects and Themes:   
Women's Ceremony, bush tucker, Fire, Coniston Ceremony, 
Body paint design. Seed dreaming, Sandy Creek, Cave.

2007 'Divas of the Desert', Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs
2008 Art Mob Hobart, Tasmania
2008 Desert Mob, Araluen Galleries, Alice Springs

Doreen Nakamarra Dickson painted her first works in the Warlpiri settlement of Willowra during the mid 1980s. Her country is Wantapari and Mt Barkly as well as Yurrkuru and includes Sandy Creek (Ngarnlkurru), which runs into the mighty Lander River, a sacred place to Warlpiri women in the Tanami Desert. Doreen is one of Sandy Creek's senior custodians and a keeper of Women's Law for this remote and isolated desert country. According to Warlpiri lore, Sandy Creek was created by the Karnta-kurlangu, a large group of ancestral women who danced across the vast salt plain feeding on its wild fruit - bush berries and native plums. Creating hair string belts for the first time, they used them to carry their babies and possessions.

Digging sticks magically thrust themselves out of the ground thereby equipping the women for their vast travels. As the women danced their way across the desert in joyous exultation they clutched the digging sticks in their outstretched hands. The rhythm of their dancing vibrated through the landscape creating the undulating sandhills, watercourses and clay-pans. These powerful ancestral women were involved in initiation ceremonies and used human hair-string, spun and rubbed with special red ochre and fat as part of their magic.

Doreen's paintings depict women's business and initiation ceremonies for women. Ceremonies always involve song, dance and body decoration, the use of particular designs and motifs denote social position and the relationship of the individuals to their family group and to particular ancestors, totemic animals and tracts of land. Patterns must conform to the ceremony being performed, and the women are not at liberty to adorn themselves with designs of free will. Elaborate ground sand paintings are also made. Ochres and Spinifex ashes are mixed with Kangaroo or Emu fat to make the body paint. Bodypainting ranges from simply smearing clay across the face, to intrinsic full body patterning.

The women collect various coloured ochres from the caves, which are located alongside Sandy Creek, which are protected by the invisible women. Only the traditional people of that area can venture anywhere near the caves, those who do not belong to this area can be punished by the invisible women in various ways, i.e. sickness or an accident. Ceremonies are still conducted at these caves today, where they also teach the children the right and wrong of different skin groups and family ties.

In early 2016, Doreen began experimenting with various styles before adopting descriptive and visual articulations of her homeland country including the Lander River and Sandy Creek areas with their sacred caves. During this time she was the resident artist for Aboriginal Fine Arts Gallery in Darwin. This new style of painting is very different from her previous work and is proving so very popular that she is now considering a solo exhibition later this year titled Little Sandy Creek, Cave Dreaming. Doreen's paintings represent a map of the country and the natural features of the surrounding Sandy Creek salt plains.

Her compositions include yawulyu (women's ritual design or body art). An array of bold colours is employed to capture the feeling and hues of the desert landscape. The act of painting means she can revise the knowledge of her country and the creation story which brought Sandy Creek into existence. Her brush moves are often accompanied by rhythmic chanting. Ancient song recalls, and brings to life, the song-line and story that are being depicted. Doreen's unique paintings have been greeted with excitement and enthusiasm, her work is becoming a popular choice for young audiences as well as established collectors in search of the new.