5 Fast Facts: Tanja Rector

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Tanja Rector (b. 1966), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Road Trip

Tanja Rector, born in Amsterdam, currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Fascinated by the topography of her adopted home, the artist created a series of abstracted landscape paintings that reflect the hills, valleys, highways, and waterways of the western United States.

Tanja Rector, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Vermeer Series), 1998; Oil and wax on panel, 15 x 13 1/4 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Tanja Rector

2. Thinly Veiled Shout Outs

Eleven mixed-media works in NMWA’s collection by Rector feature reproductions of paintings by 15th and 16th century European artists Giovanni Bellini, Dieric Bouts, Robert Campin, Petrus Christus, and Johannes Vermeer. Rector obscured the works of these male artists through her artistic process of coating them with cloudy layers of wax.

3. Paper Cut

In 2007, Rector created Chair-Table-Wall Composition, a large cascading sculpture made from white paper, cut into organic shapes, and joined by thread and paperclips. When finished, the work measured 168 by 60 by 120 inches. Rector made this work in search for silence through “women’s work” and “slow work.”

Tanja Rector, Preserve, 1988; Mixed media, 10 3/4 x 6 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection; © Tanja Rector

4. Perfectly Preserved

In Preserve (1988), Rector encases translucent photographs of a demure woman—wearing a 1950s-style housedress, clasping her hands, gazing downward toward bare feet—inside sealed glass jars. Through associations like canning to slow food spoilage and capturing creatures for personal enjoyment, Preserve challenges humans’ desire to control time and nature.

5. Cameo Appearances

Rector founded Spot Orange Design, which creates art for the film and television industry. Her work decorates the sets of movies including White Oleander and The Hangover and the television shows CSI and House.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 20, 2018

Time released its annual “Time 100” list, which highlights a group of the most influential artists, leaders, and pioneers. This year’s list included feminist artist Judy Chicago.

Emmy-winning television director Jill Soloway writes a tribute to Chicago, saying, “Her moment is finally here again, and everyone can see she is our legacy, our great, our modern Frida, the should-have-been Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol or whatever men got credited with inventing everything.”

Actresses Nicole Kidman, Gal Gadot, Millie Bobby Brown, Lena Waithe, and Deepika Padukone are among the included artists. Issa Rae, Jesmyn Ward, Tiffany Haddish, and Cardi B. are also featured in the 45 women chosen.

Front-Page Femmes

Hyperallergic explores the relationship and artistic legacies of Anna Klumpke and Rosa Bonheur.

Mary Frances Dondelinger creates bowls, vases, and statues that tell an alternative history of ancient art—suggesting a more gender-equal society.

Photographer Laura Aguilar “portrays her subjects with a tenderness that makes them seem like friends, and with the attention of someone who really sees them.”

Mandy Barker documents plastic debris collected from the world’s oceans and beaches.

The podcast What Artists Listen To asks women artists about how music impacts their work and their lives outside the studio.

Cambodian artist Tith Kanitha weaves together steel wire to create “endlessly suggestive” sculptures.

Singer and civil rights activist Marian Anderson will appear on the new $5 bill in 2020.

Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline Coachella. The New Yorker calls her performance “an education in black expression.”

New York Times Magazine profiles Janelle Monáe in advance of the release of her new album, Dirty Computer.

Tracy K. Smith and Jacqueline Woodson talk about reading, poetry, race, and the importance of literature.

In cartoonist Eleanor Davis’s book Why Art?, the audience is “allowed, for an instant, to linger in the liminal space between created and creator.”

BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic is a poetry anthology featuring more than 60 writers who “challenge ideals modeled in the image of white supremacy.”

The live-action remake of the Disney film Mulan will feature all-Asian cast.

Artforum highlights Barbara Hammer, a 78-year-old pioneer of experimental queer cinema who has produced nearly 90 films.

Shows We Want to See

Shinique Smith brings awareness to the global epidemic of poverty and homelessness by incorporating found clothing and discarded objects into her sculptures and installations. Refuge is on view at the California African American Museum (CAAM).

Faith Ringgold discusses social justice and the inspiration behind her works in Faith Ringgold: Paintings and Story Quilts, 1964-2017, on display at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London.

Glenstone Museum will present the first public exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’s previously unpublished diary entries.

Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016, on view at MoMA, “seeks to expose the public’s passive acceptance of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Faith Ringgold

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Faith Ringgold discusses her work on view at NMWA in the 2013 exhibition American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s; Photo: Laura Hoffman, NMWA

1. Get Real

Faith Ringgold considers her “American People” series, begun in the summer of 1963, the start of her mature artistic work. Using a style she called “Super Realism,” Ringgold explored what was happening to black people in the United States and commented upon the Civil Rights movement from a woman’s point of view.

2. Let Me Demonstrate

In 1968, when the Whitney Museum of American Art neglected to include any African American artists in its exhibition of 1930s sculpture, Ringgold helped organize demonstrations. She later co-founded the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee, agitating for equal inclusion of women artists in the Whitney Biennial. In 1971 she co-founded the Where We At Black Women Artists collective, a socially conscious group seeking more exhibition opportunities for black women.

3. Tell Me a Story

Ringgold’s famed story quilts were inspired by her fashion-designer mother and Tibetan thangkas (paintings on cloth framed with brocade). She draws on traditions of quilt-making to tell stories about herself and the African American experience more broadly. Her quilts pay tribute to a range of historical time periods and noted cultural figures such as Jacob Lawrence, Josephine Baker, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Faith Ringgold, American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, 1997; Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 80 1/2 x 76 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds donated by the Estate of Barbara Bingham Moore, Olga V. Hargis Family Trusts, and the Members’ Acquisition Fund; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. The Write Stuff

Ringgold is also an award-winning author. She has written and illustrated numerous children’s books, including Tar Beach (1991) and Harlem Renaissance Party (2015), as well as an autobiography titled We Flew over the Bridge (1995).

5. There’s an App for That

A huge fan of the Japanese number puzzle Sudoku, Ringgold created a visual art variation of the game in the form of an app called Quiltuduko. It uses blocks of color and pattern, inspired partly by her own art. Solve the puzzle and you’ve created not an uninspiring grid of numbers but a work of art! It rolled out on iTunes in 2014, when Ringgold was 84 years old.

Visit NMWA and see Ringgold’s work American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) on view in the museum’s third floor galleries.

—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Veils of Color: Hung Liu

Although Hung Liu (b. 1948, Changchun, China) works in a variety of mediums, her portraits are unified by a unique style characterized by richly colored veils of drip marks—an effect that makes her figures appear as if they are melting or obscured. Liu’s portraits are inspired by old Chinese photographs that primarily depict anonymous individuals omitted from the historical narrative. While her works illuminate these forgotten figures, the drip marks echo the effect of time on photographs and memories. “I create or try to portray and preserve images but also destroy or dissolve them,” says Liu. “This is because there is no way we can fully preserve anything.”

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom, 2011; Woodblock print with acrylic ink, 32 1/4 x 29 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

Trained as a painter in China during the Cultural Revolution, Liu was only permitted to paint government-sanctioned subjects in a hyperrealistic style. While studying art at the University of California, San Diego, she expanded her artistic language and explored other techniques, mediums, and subjects. Today, she simultaneously embraces and overthrows elements of realism. While her detailed figures are rendered realistically, drip marks and additional symbolic imagery destabilize her images and create a mystical atmosphere.

Liu achieves her drip marks in a variety of ways. In her paintings, she heavily dilutes her pigments with linseed oil and allows the mixture to flow freely down the canvas as she paints. To translate this effect into her etchings, she drips acid directly onto the copper plate. Her painting and etching processes include a degree of spontaneity. When dripping paint onto a canvas or acid onto an etching plate, she can never exactly predict how the liquids will fall. She relinquishes control and allows gravity and her materials to take over, a stark contrast to the technical precision of realism.

Left to right: Installation view of Hung Liu’s tapestry Rainmaker (2011) and a detail showing interwoven threads; Photos: Kali Steinberg, NMWA

While creating her tapestries and woodblock prints, Liu has more control over the final outcome. She collaborates with a team of weavers to create large tapestries that at a distance look like paintings. Her team weaves together numerous multicolored threads to imitate the drips of her paintings and etchings. To create a similar effect for a woodblock print, Liu carves jagged lines into the woodblock prior to coating it with ink. While these processes are calculated, the intentional drip marks give the illusion of impulse.

To learn more visit the artist’s website, watch a video of Liu working in her studio, and visit the museum to see the special exhibition Hung Liu In Print. Reserve your spot to meet the artist at NMWA on June 6, 2018.

—Kali Steinberg is the spring 2018 publications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 13, 2018

Artsy explores why San Antonio-based patrons Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt founded the Bennett Prize, a biannual grant that will award funding to emerging women painters who live in the U.S. and work in a figurative realist style. Applications are due in September and the winner will receive $50,000 in unrestricted funds.

Figurative painter Natalie Frank discusses the prize and says, “Establishing new names, new routes, new protections [for women artists] feels more important than ever.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Observer explores how digital platforms are becoming instrumental in the fight for gender parity in art museums, including the example of NMWA’s #5womenartists campaign.

Sebastian Smee writes an article for the Washington Post titled “These women are some of America’s greatest artists. Why don’t they get the respect they deserve?

“Throughout history women have been routinely devalued and overlooked, or relegated to a historical footnote,” says NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling in regards to the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act.

Brightest Young Things interviews Asha Elana Casey in her studio.

The New York Academy of Art honored artist Mickalene Thomas with a one-night-only all-women exhibition at the 23rd annual Tribeca Ball.

When she started working for National Geographic, Annie Griffiths was one of the institution’s only female photographers.

“A poem of the right shape will hold a thousand truths. But it doesn’t say any of them,” said science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin.

Once dismissed as “women’s work,” quilts made by women from Gee’s Bend, now hang in major museums and “feel right at home next to great works of modern art.”

Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss talks about facing sexism as a woman in jazz.

The New Yorker calls Cardi B’s debut album daring, provocative, and surprisingly traditional.

Twins Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, known as the group Ibeyi, sing in French, English, Spanish, and Yoruba.

The Los Angeles Times profiles Glory Edim, founder of Well-Read Black Girl.

Actress Molly Ringwald revisits John Hughes’s films and addresses how they reflect normalized sexism, racism, and sexual assault.

Shows We Want to See

Hyperallergic writes, “Over the past 40 years Michele Oka Doner has been developing her own ‘personal hieroglyphics’ shaped out of clay to illustrate how language comes from nature.” Doner’s exhibition, Fluent in the Language of Dreams, is on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit.

Standing Out, an annual exhibition organized by SMO Contemporary Arts, will feature the work of nine women artists who each explore women’s mental health issues.

Hyperallergic characterizes the atmosphere of Nicole Eisenman’s portraits of angry white men as “poisoned by a toxic masculinity that is not merely self-destructive but threatens to take us all down.” Nicole Eisenman: Dark Light is on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Writing and Righting History: 2018 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

For the fifth year, Art+Feminism led the global initiative to improve the Wikipedia representation of women artists and to train women editors. NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center participates by hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the museum every year. In honor of Women’s History Month, 28 volunteer editors gathered at the museum on March 17. After four hours (and three boxes of coffee), edit-a-thon participants created eight new Wikipedia articles and improved 72 existing entries.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Why does this effort matter?

Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference on the internet. A 2010 Wikimedia survey found that fewer than 13% of the platform’s contributors are women. The lack of female participation has contributed to the absence of notable women on the platform.

What was lacking?

This year, NMWA focused on entries concerning women art museum directors and gallerists—a theme closely related to the month’s Fresh Talk, a public program discussing gender parity in museums. Many leaders, scholars, and tastemakers of the modern art world, including Fresh Talk speakers Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern, and Laurence des Cars, director of the Musée d’Orsay, work to raise the visibility of women artists in their institutions.

Wikipedia has a category page titled Museum Directors, where men—unsurprisingly—drastically outnumber women. The page links to a substantially longer list of women on the page for Female Art Museum Directors. Most of the listed directors did not have links for their names, indicating that they did not have their own Wikipedia pages—even though many did. The list also sorely lacked citations to demonstrate notability, and the article had been flagged as a result. Many of these women leaders of arts institutions had sparse pages on Wikipedia or no article at all.

What did volunteers do at NMWA?

Volunteers created pages, added images, and corrected or expanded on existing content. Former Smithsonian African Art Museum Director Johnetta Cole’s article now reflects her retirement last year. Editors added details to the page of influential gallerist Marian Goodman and expanded content on Thelma Golden’s success as director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Whitechapel Art Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick’s info box now contains a permissible photograph.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Over laptops at shared tables, attendees discussed their contributions, offered each other help, and worked through their new skills together. Experienced Wikipedians were generous with their knowledge, and one attendee gave an impromptu lesson on making pages accessible to the visually impaired. A team from the BBC even stopped by to film volunteers.

Museum staff members enjoy the immediate gratification of seeing editors at work, contributions go live, and new volunteers energized to continue this work on their own. Hopefully, edit-a-thons like this will spur an ongoing effort to legitimize women’s work with reliable sources.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) and Emily Sawyer is the spring 2018 LRC intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 6, 2018

Using 20th-century documentary photography from a helicopter, LaToya Ruby Frazier captures the city landscapes of Memphis, Chicago, and Baltimore to explore Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The Atlantic released special coverage for the 50th anniversary of King’s death, including highlights from Frazier’s project. Although King was assassinated in Memphis, Frazier explores how his death also influenced the way the cities of Chicago and Baltimore are physically structured.

Front-Page Femmes

Feminist artist Judy Chicago will release a limited edition collection of plates inspired by The Dinner Party.

The documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami “traces nearly five years in the life of the singular vocalist, unparalleled stage goddess, fashion renegade and general paragon of the fabulous life, who will be 70 in May.”

Joy McCullough’s book Blood Water Paint uses 400-year-old court transcripts to re-create Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape trial.

Meg Wolitzer’s book The Female Persuasion “asks how women (and the men they love) should navigate their lives.”

The Art Newspaper explores Asia’s male-dominated art scenes.

artnet highlights the gender pay gap in the U.K.’s auction houses and museums.

Katherine Sherwood reimagines famous nude paintings by replacing the figures of white odalisques with disabled women of color.

A statue of Mary Thomas called I Am Queen Mary is the first public monument to a black woman in Denmark.

“I wanted to paint in the air,” says Rebecca Louise Law about her suspended, large-scale flower installations.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s films document women’s lives in Pakistan through exposing patriarchal structures and advocating for women’s education.

In an interview with the New York Times, actress Evan Rachel Wood discusses how playing the role of Dolores on Westworld has helped her deal with her trauma as a survivor of sexual assault.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s new film explores the life of Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum.

Shows We Want to See

A survey of Zoe Leonard’s “strangely beautiful, unpretentiously intimate, and adamantly political work” is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Divided into seven sections, the exhibition includes a college of vintage postcards, dye-transferred captures of mom-and-pop shops, and photos of 1930s black lesbian actress Fae Richards. The show also includes Leonard’s I Want a President.

A survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago showcases the evolution of Howardena Pindell’s work over the past five decades.

Through site-specific installations, Renée Green creates a dialogue with museum institutions and architecture. Green’s exhibition Within Living Memory, the final installment of her two-year residency, is on view at Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: Amy Sherald Inspires

A few weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery, a two-year-old girl stood captivated in front of Michelle Obama’s new portrait by Amy Sherald, the artist who also won the gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. A snapshot of the girl enthralled by the painting circulated on Facebook, where it quickly went viral—as did so many of the photographs of the portrait of the former first lady.

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

The little girl’s mother told CNN, “As a female and as a girl of color, it’s really important that I show her people who look like her that are doing amazing things and are making history so that she knows she can do it.”

This statement echoed the former first lady’s remarks at the painting’s unveiling, “[Girls, and especially girls of color,] will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution. And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

It is extremely exciting for me to see the public interact with Sherald’s work in person and on social media. While the painting of Obama evoked a mixed reception from some who were unfamiliar with her stylized practice, it won high praise from many for its insightful take on a strong woman, inspiring people of all ages. In 2012—before Sherald’s name was widely known—the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) took notice of her work. You can see two paintings, They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake and It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, in our galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

The museum’s exterior; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Our Chief Curator Kathryn Wat says, “Sherald’s flamboyant palette and the gray-scale skin tones of her figures are part of what makes her work so engaging. The way she positions figures in her portraits—usually aimed straight forward and looking out with a neutral expression—is also arresting. I think she rejects the romantic idea that portraits ought to capture not just a likeness but the essence of a sitter’s character. Her work offers a much livelier take on portraiture—it suggests that people are never of a singular personality and much more complex than we might ever imagine.” Sherald explained that the way she portrays skin color is “a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people.”

In the wake of the Obama portrait’s unveiling, Sherald’s work is receiving widespread attention. She was recently awarded the 2018 David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which is presented to a person who has made a significant contribution to the conversation about the work of black artists.

In honor of Women’s History Month, our museum hung a banner featuring Sherald and the word “inspire” on the building. When a woman artist deserves praise, we don’t hesitate to shout it out.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: March 16, 2018

Activists organized a display of more than 7,000 pairs of shoes on the U.S. Capitol lawn on March 13 to commemorate the victims of school shootings, and to push for stricter gun laws. Hyperallergic recalls other works that use clothing to raise awareness around violence.

Artists and museums have similarly used clothes and personal belongings to illuminate the bodies that society systematically ignores and abuses,” writes Eva Recinos for Hyperallergic. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Teresita de la Torre’s 365 Days in an Immigrant’s Shirt, Patricia Cronin’s Shrine for Girls, and Margarita Cabrera’s Space in Between—Agave all “humanize and capture events that are sometimes too horrific to process.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Los Angeles art community reacts to the firing of MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth.

A group of 79 art world figures published an open letter in support of Maria Inés Rodriguez, the director of Bordeaux’s Contemporary Art Museum who was recently fired from her position.

The Broad Museum in Los Angeles acquired a new Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room.

Mattel announces the creation of a Frida Kahlo Barbie as part of their “Inspiring Women” line.

Music icon Joan Baez announced that her new album, Whistle Down the Wind, will be her last.

Phyllida Barlow will install a 30-foot-high sculpture titled Prop as her first public commission in the U.S.

Netflix paid The Crown actress Claire Foy less than supporting actor Matt Smith, despite her critical acclaim.

Animator Romane Granger uses modeled clay to suggest the complex ecosystem of life on the ocean’s floor.

Instead of focusing on the likenesses of the presidential portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, Hyperallergic writes that “these pictures represent the former first couple both as individuals and as archetypes of African Americans.”

Art21 creates a video profile about Abigail DeVille’s The New Migration.

Shows We Want to See

On view at the Riverside Art Museum, Wendy Maruyama’s work explores the impact President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 had on her family and Japanese-Americans.

Faith Ringgold: An American Artist, on view at the Crocker Art Museum, displays more than 40 examples of Ringgold’s varied works spanning four decades. The exhibition includes story quilts, tankas, prints, oil paintings, drawings, masks, soft sculptures, and original illustrations from the book Tar Beach.

Tate Modern’s Joan Jonas retrospective spans over 50 years of the artist’s career and includes six days of live performances.

Laura Owens’s work on display at the Dallas Museum of Art challenges assumptions about figuration and abstraction, as well as the relationships among avant-garde art, craft, pop culture, and technology.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Janet Forrester Ngala

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Janet Forrester Ngala (b. 1936), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Janet Forrester Ngala, Milky Way Dreaming, 1998; Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 34 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O’Donnell; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

1. Australia Dreamin’

Janet Forrester Ngala, like many other Australian Aboriginal artists, depicts Dreamings, or creation stories. As these tales are inherited and considered sacred, artists protect specifics by working in an abstract style.

2. Humble Beginnings

Australian Indigenous art dates back more than 30,000 years. Early forms of expression included rock, bark, and body painting and ephemeral ground drawing. In the 1970s, Aboriginal men started using modern art materials to record ancient stories in tangible, saleable forms. Many women, including Ngala, began painting in the 1980s.

3. In the Stars

Ngala frequently represents the Milky Way in her paintings. Australian Aboriginal people believe that the galaxy is home to ancestral spirits and that each star within it represents a deceased person or animal.

Detail image of the center of Janet Forrester Ngala’s Milky Way Dreaming (1998) in NMWA’s galleries

4. Perspective Shifts

Ngala’s Milky Way Dreaming (1998) invites viewers to imagine gazing up at the stars. In Yam Story ’96 (1996), Emily Kame Kngwarreye (ca. 1910–1996) leads viewers deep underground, where we see intertwined, infinite, root bundles. Pansy Napangati (b. ca. 1948) provides audiences with aerial views of the land.

5. Methods to Motifs

In addition to the Milky Way, Ngala’s repeating symbols include serpents, honey ants, bush bananas, goannas (carnivorous lizards that are close relatives of Komodo Dragons), and witchetty-mades (large white larvae of moths historically consumed by Indigenous Australians) due to their high protein content.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.