Born 1944, Pitjantjatjara Country, near Watarru, South Australia. Lives and works on Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara Country, Indulkana. Pitjantjatjara, Southern Desert region
A respected senior woman and artist at Iwantja Arts, Betty Muffler’s practice spans painting, drawing, printmaking and tjanpi (native grass) weaving. She is a renowned ngangkari (traditional healer), a practice handed down through her father’s side and taught to her by her aunties. Alongside a rigorous art practice, she works extensively with Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council and medical practitioners to support Anangu to good health and through times of crisis. Drawing on personal experience, Muffler’s work questions how we care for one another and sentient land. A recurring theme is the healing of Country and Anangu in the aftermath of British atomic weapons testing at Maralinga and Emu Field.
Photograph: Meg Hansen
Born 1950, Ngaanyatjarra Country, near Irruntju (Wingellina), Western Australia. Lives and works on Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara Country, Indulkana. Pitjantjatjara, Southern Desert region
Maringka Burton is a respected senior artist working at Iwantja Arts who maintains a prolific practice across painting and tjanpi (native grass) weaving. She was born near the site of the Anumara Tjukurpa (Caterpillar creation story), south of Irrunytju (Wingellina). She lived a traditional Anangu lifestyle with her parents Charlie Tjalkuriny (Charlie Burton) and Naputja Yanyi (Yanyi Burton) and siblings before settling in Pukatja (Ernabella), where she attended the Ernabella Mission school. Burton is a highly regarded ngangkari (traditional healer), having been guided in this practice by her father. Her ngangkari work involves extensive travel and working alongside doctors and nurses to support Anangu patients in hospitals and clinics.
Photograph: Alex Craig
Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton provide an insight into their work in Pitjantjatjara language in the following text
Tjungu ngangkari kutjara, ngali pulka mulapa warkaringu... palyalpai walytjangku walytjangku panya, ngura ngalimpali walytjangku walytjangku palyalpai.
Titutjarangku alatjitu walkatjunkupai ngura, alatjitu...katu ngayuku Pulka, ngayuku nyangatja pulka tjuta ngarinyi road-tjara anumaraku roadpangka ngaripai titutjara lineup... green one... Wangkapai alatjitu ngayulu ngura iriti tjunu ngayuku tjukurpa Anumara Piti – ‘Caterpillar dreaming.’
– Maringka Burton
Paluru walaruru, dreaming paluru nyinanyi nyinanyi paluru... ngayuku mama ka ngayulu kuwari nyinanyi-tu...paluru iniwai ngayula pakani. Ngayula mapan wiyaringkula paluru ngayula ananyi tjungu... uwa ngangkari... ‘uwa ankula kurunypa mantjila...munu ngalyakati’. Ngayulu patara kulini... paluru wiruringu. Kapi Ukalingkunytja...ngarintja kapi puyinangka kapi ukalingkula ngarinyi...ngura iniwai-ku. Kapi nyangatja puyini...ka paluru nyaaringanyi, puyinangka panya roundarini- kapi roundarini- ka palulanguru tjarpini tjukulangka ka kutjupa tjarpini mantangka karungka ka tjawani, tjawara nyanganyi- hey kapi pakani waka-wakanyi, tjunungka.
– Betty Muffler
by Erin Vink
Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton are a dynamic duo. Aunty and niece, they are also two prolific and respected senior Pitjantjatjara artists. Most importantly, they are both ngangkaris (traditional healers) who have spent their lives traversing Country, working together and separately, in their quest to support Anangu to better health. Their ngangkari and painting practices are intertwined and are equally informed by the other: at the heart of both are aspects of healing and care, knowledge and respect. Together, Muffler and Burton work to explore the unseen connections between Anangu and Country.
Muffler and Burton live and work in the small Anangu community of Indulkana, more than four hours south of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). There they work at Iwantja Arts, an Anangu-owned and operated art centre. Muffler has been painting for more than ten years, but most prolifically since 2015. In 2017 she won the Emerging Artist Prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. For Burton, her career has followed a similar trajectory, with 2013–14 cementing her as an artist on the rise.
While the two artists have known each other their whole lives, the past year was the first time the duo came together to paint as one. Their largest-ever paintings made to date, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) (2020) alert us to Muffler and Burton’s unique and personal experiences of Country. They also serve to document the Tjukurpa and energies that they have inherited from Anangu and the land. Both paintings can be read as an expression of their tireless joy and hope for the future.
Using a large brush to generate big, flowing lines that conjure imagery of roads and waterholes, Burton paints her Country, Anamara Piti, the site of the Caterpillar Tjukurpa, near Irrunytju (Wingellina). While Burton has never shied away from colour, Muffler prefers to paint aerial views of her Country, south of Watarru, almost exclusively in colour-kutju (one colour). Muffler employs small fine brushes for painting, pushing tones of white across the canvas to create a scratchy, topographical vision of home.
In both paintings, Muffler and Burton include reference to their ngangkari, along with reflections on how, together, they bring spirits back to good health. Muffler includes literal imagery of their open healing hands within the paintings – although they are well-hidden and usually hard to find. The duo have also adorned the two works with running lines that identify the movement of water in the desert, as ngangkaris are said to control the weather systems, to bring rain.
The repetition of the linework and the precision in the mark making is haunting. It is not hard to see the spirits of previous ngangkari appear in each of Muffler and Burton’s marks, with both ladies drawing on the memories of their Ancestors to heal that which is missing. As with their healing practice, these paintings are a gift that tether the past with the present. Muffler and Burton generously show that while they have seen many changes to Country and culture due to colonial-brought destruction, they will continue to work together to heal, for the rest of their lives.
Betty and Maringka
Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton discuss their work at the AGNSW
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
Atelier, the next generation of philanthropy at the AGNSW, proudly support Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton as philanthropy partner.
Art Centre manager: Beth Conway and Heath Aarons, Iwantja Arts.
Videographer: Meg Hansen Photography