Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images and names of people who have died. Images have been used with permission of the deceased’s family.
You might not have heard of Kumantje Jagamara from Pupunya (c.1949-November 9, 2020), but you have probably seen his artwork.
The Warlpiri artist from Central Australia passed away in November, and was remembered at a funeral in Alice Springs on Wednesday.
Hundreds gathered to pay tribute to a giant of the Indigenous art world, and listened to a letter from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of his passing.
Kumantje Jagamara was the inaugural winner of the 1984 National Aboriginal Art Award, now known as the Telstra Award, and went on to an illustrious art career.
He was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his service to the arts in 1993.
On show at Parliament House and the Opera House
His most recognisable work is the Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic that sits outside Parliament House in Canberra.
The 196-square-metre mosaic in the forecourt of Parliament House is the first artwork you will encounter on a visit to Parliament.
It also features on the Australian $5 note, and an 8.2 metre painting by him also hangs on the walls of the Sydney Opera House.
The mosaic was referenced in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s letter, which was read out by family at the funeral.
“Every time I look at the Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic at the entry to Parliament House I will be reminded of the important relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their land, and of the man behind the work,” the letter read.
From Papunya to New York
Despite his fame and success, long-time friend to Kumantje Jagamara, UNSW Adjunct Art and Design Professor Vivien Johnson, remembered him on Wednesday as a kind and caring person who lived an extraordinary life.
“He was a quiet man, really, in spite of his illustrious career,” she said.
“[He was a] person who traversed an incredible span, from the first eight or nine years of his life, walking in the bush with his family, never having seen white fellas – to New York, and being celebrated there for the Dreamings exhibition.
“[Then to] to the Parliament House Mosaic, which he always regarded as his greatest achievement.”