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ARTIST PROFILE: Agnes Yamboong Armstrong

It’s toward the end of Barndenyirriny (hot season) on Miriwoong Country and Agnes Yamboong Armstrong is working away on a new painting inside Waringarri Aboriginal Arts.

At her studio desk is a handwritten cardboard sign that says “Agnes’ Table: Do Not Touch! 😊”, and a crate filled with paints and brushes, Gerdewoon (boab) nuts, printed photographs of her paintings and a book titled Encyclopedia of the Animal World.  “He look like a bird, see?” Agnes giggles, referring to one of her boab nuts.

Agnes is working with the soft grey, brown and yellow ochres that are characteristic of her paintings. With a fine brush, she is painting a landscape full of the Gerdewoon (Boab), Wirnbeng (Pandanus), Jalaloong (Helicopter) and Warlarring (White Gum) trees that are found on Miriwoong Country.

Image credit: Agnes Yamboong Armstrong with her paintings at Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, Kununurra. Photography by Timbee Photography.

“That’s old Ivanhoe Station. Kitchen, camp, house. A tent this side. I was born here, by the billabong” Agnes explains. “There’s water, spring water around here, and trees. There was no top dam, no middle dam, no crossing, before Ivanhoe Crossing.”

In the foreground is the billabong that she is carefully filling up with lily pads. “Gonna fill it up, put the leaves around it. Put the leaves everywhere, all over” says Agnes. “Sometimes crocodiles in there. You wouldn’t know if you went there. One of them ate one dog on the crossing” she says. 

Agnes is always thinking back to her childhood to create her paintings, her memory growing up at Ivanhoe Station and the roadtrains passing over Ivanhoe Crossing and through Miriwoong Country.

Together we look at photographs of her work, like Roadtrain, where a black silhouette of a roadtrain is travelling across a red landscape, painted in aerial view. The roadtrain is transporting cattle to the meat works in Wyndham, Agnes explains.  “That one there on Ivanhoe Crossing, that one’s coming back empty. Bullock. Moo-moos. Drop the load and go back” she says.

In another work, Ngamoowalem, three big, dark-grey storm clouds rain over a mountain landscape and Thegoowiyeng (Kelly’s Knob). “That painting there, that Kelly’s Knob one. See that waterfall. The water, spring water, running” she says, gesturing to the waterfalls in the background. Life flows from the storm clouds and the waterfalls into the foreground of this painting, filled with Agnes’ brushstrokes, and an array of plant life and colour, letting us know this is a story of Nyinggiyi-mageny (wet season).

Agnes has been painting since 1999 and also works with boab nut engraving, printmaking and textiles. Before Waringarri Aboriginal Arts was established in Kununurra, Agnes says people were “painting out in the park somewhere in town.”

“I was cooking for school before, for work. But I changed for painting, when they built this place” Agnes says.

“And I never let it go when I started painting.”

Waringarri Aboriginal Arts is Western Australia’s first, wholly Indigenous-owned art centres and has now been running for over four decades. Today, it supports more than 100 artists working across painting, sculpture, textiles, printmaking, ceramics, wood and boab nut carving, as well as special projects, collaborations and exhibitions. Waringarri also run two gallery spaces, Miriwoong cultural tours, and support the Kira Kiro Artists working in Kalumburu community.

Agnes’s inaugural solo exhibition Ngayang Dawang Ngamoowalem: My Country Ivanhoe Ranges was held at Mossenson Galleries in Boorloo/Perth from March 15 – April 12, 2024. A catalogue of her exhibition can be requested from the gallery.