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An enduring influence: the legacy of Sally Gabori

The legacy of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori is evident in every aspect of artists’ lives on Mornington Island.

With the Queensland Art Gallery’s Sally Gabori retrospective,  Dulka Warngiid – Land of all, her influence on the national stage has been explored by leading curators and arts commentators across the country, but closer to home at Mornington Island Art her success and its financial benefits continue to change lives.

From the bricks and mortar of the Mornington Island art studio to the confident experimentation across art forms by the next generation of artists, Mrs Gabori’s fame established a climate of optimism and opportunity.

Inge Cooper, consultant for Mornington Island Art, says Mrs Gabori acted as an inspiration to many of the artists who would walk into the art centre whether they were Kaidilt or Lardil, many coming because Aunty Sally asked them to.

“This mentorship consisted of other Mornington Island artists having a belief that they had an opportunity to succeed in the non-Indigenous art world as well – just by seeing her wield her paint brush or 'stick', as she would refer to it, with gusto/passion and precision, a contradiction but true.

“She knew exactly what she was painting and very rarely became distracted or overwhelmed.

“On saying that it was, at times, overwhelming for others,  particularly the Lardil artists, seeing Sally paint because they  quite often painstakingly paint with '00' brushes and complete a painting over months  ... yet Sally would carve swathes with her large 'stick' on the same size canvas!

“Sally has been the impetus or instigator to look beyond the traditional, at more contemporary thoughts and ideas of how to represent an aboriginal art work, whether that be 2D or 3D and challenging pre-conceived ideas.”

Art Centre Manager Grace Barnes believes Sally’s most enduring gift has been to the young people.

“Because of Sally’s success, we are not just an art centre but can extend opportunities to the young people, like fashion.

“Sally’s granddaughter (Letisha Gabori) went all the way to Melbourne to dance and perform during VAMFF (Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival) Cultural Program. There’s an NITV story coming up about it.

“Our art centre is a lovely air-conditioned studio, with a lovely atmosphere – a place where culture is revived and stories are told, I am learning so much.

“This building is built on Sally’s career, a safe place with a pottery studio, where artists can realise their artistic flair and potential, whatever their strength.

“Today our artists are creating Hebel sculptures, silverware and fashion, as well as paintings and pottery. It’s very exciting.”

Mornington Island Art has retained Mrs Gabori’s first and last paintings to ensure that the community always has the opportunity to see and to touch her art work. These works have been permanently loaned to Queensland Art Gallery for safekeeping on the the understanding that art centre can recall the artworks for community exhibitions.

Dulka Warngiid – Land of all shows until 28 August at the Queensland Art Gallery.

Mornington Island Art Centre is one of the 14 art centres and hubs across Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait supported by Arts Queensland’s Backing Indigenous Arts initiative. This initiative aims to build sustainable and ethical Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts industries by supporting traditional and contemporary practice across all art forms; ensuring a vibrant network of Indigenous Arts Centres; increasing professional, business and employment opportunities for Indigenous artists and arts workers; and, supporting cultural retention activity keeping culture strong.  Artists with Sally Gabori at Mornington Island Art 2010. Photo courtesy Mornington Island ArtSally Gabori at work in the Mornington Island Art Centre in 2010. Photo: Inge Cooper, courtesy Mornington Island Art