Roma Butler (middle name Nyutjangka), cousin of the much celebrated Musee du Quai Branly artist, Tommy Watson, was born in 1959 at Wilu rock hole, on the kanyala (euro kangaroo) Tjukurpa track. A Pitjantjatjara woman, Roma spent her early years at Ernabella mission in South Australia. Later she went to Warburton in Western Australia, where she attended school. At the age of 12 she moved to Irrunytju, her grandfather’s brother’s country.
Roma’s career as an artist began in the late 1990’s at the outstations of Kintore and Kiwirrkurra where she came under the influence of the dotted, figurative artistic style of Pintupi artists and Pupanya Tula art. At Irunytju several years later, her painting took up a freer style as she, encouraged by senior women such as Kuntjil Cooper, began painting some of the more emotionally intense stories of her tjukurpa that focus on one aspect of a far larger story rather than travels and pathways of the creation ancestors. Hers are stories of indigenous women’s business concerning kinship relationships, birth and survival.
MinymaKutjara (Two Sister Dreaming)
MinymaTjalputjalpu (black-faced wood swallow) and watitjintir–tjintir (willy–wagtail man).
MinymaKutjara (Two Sisters Dreaming)
This is a very important sacred story that refers to different aspects of ceremonial knowledge associated with Irruntju Women’s business. Menstruation, courtship, pregnancy, childbirth, as well as the inma (ceremonial singing and dancing) and rites associated with these things are interwoven into its tjukurpa. So secret are some aspects of the story narration that parts are only told in whispers. The major narrative refers to the return journey of a young girl to her family.
She originally got lost in a big wind. Her older sister finds her hundreds of kilometres from home, and being raised by another family. The story refers to the young child’s reluctance to leave the family who had raised her and the long trek she took with her sibling to reunite with her family. They journey northwards describes camping at rock holes and sacred places where they gather food, drink water and hunt. At these resting places they also perform ceremony through song and dance and make hair string belts in preparation for women’s business.
Additional aspects of the story include the creation of landmarks such as rock holes and mountains as they travelled through the desert. For example it refers to the formation of a rock hole which magically came into being at the point where a sharp digging stick thrown by one of the sisters pierced the ground. It also refers to how the mountain near Irrunytju took its form. It is said to represent an incident when the older sister, to comfort the younger one who was crying, told her stories and gave her a piggy back.
A common interpretation within this narrative refers to how the creeks, gullies and the rock hole at Irrunytju were created. The rock holes existence is explained as the result of digging sticks being thrown at the ground by two sisters humiliated at being caught unawares by a women passerby. The intruder found them sitting indiscreetly at the rock hole site with their legs wide open as they were weaving string belts in preparation for women’s business. This story caused all the women to laugh at them. The places where they sat marked the landscape forming creeks and gullies.
(black-faced wood swallow) and WatiTjintir–Tjintir (willy–wagtail man)
In the story the heavily pregnant swallow and the willy-wagtail man live together with their two children. A storm destroys their shelter and they are forced to flee to Wanatjukutjuku, only to be chased by a mamu or devil monster along the way. Upon their arrival at their destination the wagtail man asks the swallow to give birth. Unable to do so because of exhaustion, he cuts her belly open and the baby flies out.
Mamutjara (spirit place)
Regularly depicted in her paintings it portrays spirit places in her country, some of which related to her dreaming, mainly unspoken as they are sacred or part of womens business.
A sense of intricate theatre informs the dramatic and intricate work of Roma Butler. Her bright canvases ripple with linear plays of finely executed dots that fan out from one roundel or site across the canvas or landscape to another, or to disappear abruptly, as if mid journey, expressing ghostly disappearance and sudden evaporation into the ether. These lines describe movement and energy flow; on another level, a spiritualized land with visible pathways of the ancestors they travelled through the land.
• Art Gallery of Western Australia
• National Gallery of Australia
2009 Agathon Galleries Sydney, Melbourne
2008 Roma Butler Solo Exhibition, Agathon Galleries, NSW
2006 Roma Butler Solo Exhibition, Agathon Galleries, NSW
2006 TjukurpaMulapa: True Story – Senior Irrunytju Artists, Vivien Anderson Gallery, VIC
2006 Xsrata Coal Emerging Artist Award, Queensland Art Gallery, QLD
2005 The Women’s Show, Vivien Anderson Gallery, VIC
2005 Xstrata Emerging Indigenous Artist Award, Art Gallery of Queensland, QLD
2005 New paintings from Irrunytju, Artplace, WA