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BORN: c.1935 – 30.11.2013
COUNTRY: Mungapunju, south of Yuendumu, Tanami Desert
Paddy Japaljarri Stewart was an Australian Aboriginal artist from Mungapunju, south of Yuendumu. He was chairman of the Warlukurlangu Artists Committee. Stewart was one of the artists who contributed to the Honey Ant Dreaming mural on the Papunya school wall in 1971 – the very genesis of the modern Aboriginal art movement.
When he was a young man he was a station worker at Mt Allen, Mt Dennison and up the top end. He worked as a chef in Papunya, hence his nickname ‘Cookie’. Cookie worked at the Yuendumu school teaching young kids, both kardiya and yapa (non aboriginal and aboriginal). He taught painting, jukurrpa (dreaming), tracking (dingo, kangaroo, goanna etc…), how to make wax for the sand painting, dancing, making boomerangs and many other important culture traditions. Each day Paddy drove the school bus that collected the kids. He was also involved in the council and in Night Patrol. He was previously the chairman for the Warlukurlangu Artists Committee, and painted regularly.
In 1983, Stewart along with four other artist painted thirty of the Yuendumu school doors with Dreaming designs, negotiating the content with other Warlpiri men and women who also collectively owned the designs. Twenty-seven Dreamings (tjukurrpa) were represented on the doors, referring to more than two hundred sites in Warlpiri and Anmatyerre territory.
The painted doors were also intended to remind the Yuendumu schoolchildren of a web of sites and obligations extending across their country. The doors remained at Yuendumu, resisting erasure for twelve years despite the desert wind and sun, and robust treatment from Warlpiri schoolchildren. The entire series of Yuendumu Doors was acquired by the South Australian Museum in 1995 and then restored. Twelve of the best doors were selected for a travelling exhibition that toured Australia for three years; the Yuendumu Doors are now at the South Australian Museum.
Hanging on to tradition was key in his life. Early in his life he worked as a chef in Papunya, and since retained his nickname “Cookie”. He is one of the first Aboriginal artists to achieve a high international profile in the late 1980s. Stewart taught the children Jukurrpa (dreaming) art. It taught young artists that painting can be your own free expression.
In 1988 Paddy Stewart was selected by The Power Gallery, Sydney University to travel to Paris with five other Warlpiri men from Yuendumu to create a ground painting installation at the exhibition ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ at the Centre Georges Pompidou. The trip took place in May 1989 and the painting was received with world wide acclaim.
In 1995, the Canberra Medical Society, specifically Dr Martin Duncan and Dr Cam Webber went to the remote Yuendumu settlement where they removed cataracts from five Aboriginal artists including Stewart who had one of the most difficult conditions.
In 2001 Stewart and Paddy Japaljarri Sims, won the $4,000 Telstra Work on Paper Award from the National Aboriginal Art Award (now Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award).
In 2004 Stuart Macintyre wrote in a “A concise history of Australia” that Paddy Japaljarri Stewart recorded his testimony in his own language. “He evokes the continuity of dreaming from Grandfather and father to son and grandson, down the generations and across the passages of time; yet the insistence on the obligation to preserve and transmit his three jukurrpas’s attest to the corrosive possibility of secular change. He goes on to aver that the maintenance of Dreaming has to be really strict’, so that his family will not lose it like paper, or throw it away or give it away to other families.
“My father’s grandfather taught me first, and after a while my father taught me the same way as his father told jukurrpa [Dreaming], and then my father is telling the same story about what his father told him and now he is teaching me to live the same kind of jukurrpa and follow the way what my grandfather did, and then teach what my father did, and then I’m going to teach my grandchildren the same way as my father taught me. When my father was alive this is what he taught me. He taught me the traditional ways like the traditional designs in body or head of kangaroo Dreaming (that’s what we call marlu Dreaming) and eagle Dreaming. He taught me to sing song for the big ceremonies. People who are related to us in a close family, they have to have the same sort of jukurrpa Dreaming, and to sing songs in the same way that we do our actions like dancing, and painting on our bodies or shields or things, and this is what my father taught me. My dreaming is the kangaroo dreaming, the Eagle Dreaming and the budgerigar Dreaming, so I have three kinds of Dreaming in my jukurrpa and I have to hang onto it. This is what my father taught me, and this is what I have to teach my sons the same way my father taught me, and thats way it will go on from grandparent to sons, and follow that jukurrpa. No-one knows when it will end.”
Paddy Japaljarri Stewart exhibited artwork throughout Australia & around the world; including exhibitions in France, USA, Germany, UK, French Polynesia & Amsterdam. Paddy Japaljarri Stewart is featured in the collections of Major Art Institutions in Australia and around the world.