Nothing is off-limits with his infectious energy and wry humor

The paintings displayed echo Namatjira’s mantra that his paintbrush was his weapon and art had the power to transform the world.

Vincent Namatjira is a Western Aranda person in the Northern Territory. Born in 1983 at Mparntwe, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Australia in colour 2021, Indulkana, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, South Australia. Synthetic polymer on linen (21 panels) 51.0 cm x 76.0cm (each). Purchased to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Gallery of Australia. 2022 National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (c) Vincent Namatjira.

The exhibition is set by his multi-panel portrait set, Australia in Colour. It shows a mixture of rich and powerful people such as Gina Rinehart and Scomo, alongside local heroes like musician Angus Young and Ned Kelly, along with Aboriginal heroes Cathy Freeman and Vincent Linguiari.

There is no limit to what you can do.

Read more: Terra nullius interrupts Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art.

Artistic lineage

Vincent Namatjira has a strong sense of lineage and is aware of his role in continuing the work Albert Namatjira began in the landscape by portraying Country.

In his twin portraits, Albert and Vincent, he poses in the same position as William Dargie did in 1956 when he won the Archibald Prize for his portrait of his great grandfather.

Vincent Namatjira is timely in his assertion of wrongful behavior, as he shows in the telling portrait he painted of Adam Goodes.

Read more: At last, the arts Revolution — Archibald winners flag the end of white male dominance

That assertiveness extends to correcting the historical record in his series of Unknown soldiers (2020) which portrays First Nations men who served in the first world war. Many chose not to declare their Aboriginal heritage so they could enlist. The paintings completed on army surplus camouflage fabric reinforce that their stories are still hidden, waiting to be woven into an inclusive national history.

Namatjira included him in this series as he was trying

Understanding the mindset of Indigenous males who volunteered to fight in WW1 and were mistreated or neglected by their people.

View of the installation: Vincent Namatjira, Australia in Colour, Tarnanthi 2020, Art Gallery of South Australia Adelaide. Photo by Saul Steed.

Visit the Royals

The use of wry humor and the clever reversal of identities can go a long way toward rewriting colonialism and history.

Namatjira has painted many paintings of British royalty, and often he inserts himself into the composition. He’s having afternoon tea with Charles, Vincent, and Elizabeth (2020) and standing on top of the royal carriage (Vincent and Elizabeth On Country) in The Royal Tour (2022).

The gesture of placing a Queen who is uncomfortable in another country with Namatjira on the roof of the royal carriage towering above her says it all.

Vincent Namatjira is a Western Aranda person in the Northern Territory. Born in 1983 at Mparntwe, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Queen Elizabeth & Vincent ( On Country), 20 1 8, Indulkana, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, South Australia. Synthetic polymer on linen, 122.0 x 152.0 cm. Vincent Namatjira, Private Collection. Photo: Iwantja Arts.

Namatjira also depicts a Charles on Country, a dark-skinned man who is unsure of himself and dressed in royal regalia. An Albert Namatjira view of the West Macdonnell Ranges frames the image. The artist has written the curatorial clues that viewers can use to interpret the images. He says the following about royalty:

I have painted a lot about the British Royal Family – they were born with wealth, power, and privilege. I think it’s okay to mock their stifling uniforms and outdated traditions, even their teeth.

Captain Cook is also a target, as he describes:

James Cook’s ship washed ashore in the desert. He’s sunburnt, lost. The British royals look out of place as they wander through the ghost gums and sandy creeks.

View of the installation: Vincent Namatjira, Australia in Colour, Tarnanthi 2020, Art Gallery of South Australia Adelaide. Photo by Saul Steed.

Re-recording History

Seven Leaders (2016) is a powerful series of portraits of senior Aboriginal men living on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yakunytjatjara Lands. These include Alec Baker (Mumu Mike), Kunmanara Williams (Witjiti George), and Kunmanara Williams.

These powerful women, with their white hair, greying beards, and eyes filled with experience and conviction, are a different set of figures. As in the other paintings of this rich exhibit, the tables have been turned. The viewers are left wondering who is in power and why.

Vincent Namatjira, sitting in the exhibition, engages with the historical account of Rex Battarbee teaching Albert Namatjira watercolor.

Vincent Namatjira is a Western Aranda person in the Northern Territory. Born in 1983 at Mparntwe, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Rex and Albert, 2017, Indulkana, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, South Australia. Synthetic polymer on linen, 91.0 by 122. Vincent Namatjira, Private Collection.

Vincent Namatjira’s depiction of this event is an equal representation. The transaction is culturally exchanged.

This engagement with art history extends into the construction of national art. Instead of the rural pastoral landscapes of settled land, without its Indigenous inhabitants, by artists like Arthur Streeton, new national paintings such as Albert Namatjira and Slim Dusty on Country (2022) are being created.

Vincent Namatjira is a Western Aranda person in the Northern Territory. Born in 1983, Mparntwe, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Albert Namatjira Slim Dusty Archie Roach, on Country 2022 Indulkana Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands South Australia. Synthetic polymer on linen, 67.0 x 198.0cm. Prudence Le Bequest Fund, Art Gallery of South Australia 2023, Adelaide (c). Vincent Namatjira.

This lively and cheeky show features pop-ups made in collaboration with Tony Albert, irreverent portraits created with Ben Quilty, and moving images of Vincent Namatjira driving through Country on Albert Namatjira’s green truck.

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