Ngarlaa Donovan exhibiting at Urunga Art Space

A five-year-old Indigenous girl has been invited to display her work in an exhibition next month at the Urunga Art Space gallery.

Ngarlaa Donovan is the daughter of Juanella McKenzie, an Adnyamathanha woman from the desert of South Australia and Gumbaynggnirr man Michael Donovan.

Juanella and Michael are both artists who are keen to pass cultural traditions down to their children, so from an early age they have been telling them dreaming stories, teaching them to sing in language and encouraging them to do Indigenous art.

Ngarlaa and her sisters Ngayan, 3, and Ngindy, 2, will be performing a traditional song and dance at the exhibition opening on Saturday October 20.

The Art Space curator Adrienne Hmelnitsky said the exhibition, “Bloom – Guura”, would feature 12 artists, including Juanella and Ngarlaa.

“One of Juanella’s pieces is a collaboration with her daughter so we thought it would be delightful to have additional works by Ngarlaa,” Adrienne said. “We’re very keen to get more youth art into the gallery.”

Ngarlaa paints abstract contemporary Indigenous art depicting Dreamtime stories and she is also working on an emu feather weaving with Juanella.

“I’ve taught Ngarlaa how to do it, so she’s been helping me and we’re doing it as a collaboration,” Juanella said.

Juanella sources the emu feathers from her birthplace in South Australia.

“My family own a property in the Flinders Ranges, and when we do our trips back home we eat the emus as bush tucker,” she said.

“The feathers can be used for weaving, the meat to be eaten, the fat for medicine. The bones can be used for making tools. We had a trip home for the school holidays and were lucky enough to get a big bag of emu feathers.”

Juanella said the weaving they are currently creating will become a decorative wall hanging.

“Although it does look like a mat,” Juanella said, “too much work’s gone into it for it to be put on the floor! 

“Amazingly, the Art Gallery of NSW is interested in having an emu feather weaving and I’m having a meeting with the senior curator and the assistant curator about it next week,” Juanella said. 

Last year Ngarlaa was featured on SBS singing in language to protect a sacred waterhole in South Australia from being turned into a nuclear waste dump.

“She’s a pretty amazing little girl,” Juanella said.

The current exhibition at The Art Space is “Barlaaganya – Shine” and it is running from September 11 to October 12. Opening night is Saturday 5-7pm at 13 Bonville St Urunga.