Barbara (Other names: Pananka or Jampijinpa) is an Anmatyerre artist and is mother to the Numina sisters - six daughters and two sons who all live in Darwin, Northern Territory. She grew up in Stirling Station, a cattle station near Tennant Creek where she was schooled by her parents and started painting at a young age, learning from her mum Topsy Thomson Nabanardi (deceased). Her dad is George Jungala (deceased). Barbara worked at the station collecting firewood, ironing clothes and general housekeeping duties for the owners of the station for which she was paid money. Barbara was married to Douglas Petyarre (deceased) who was the older brother to renowned artists Ada Bird, Gloria, Kathleen and Violet Petyarre. Barbara moved to Darwin in 2008 to be with her daughters and still lives there today, occasionally going back to Stirling for ceremonies and other family matters.
Barbara first began painting the Women's bush tucker dreamings, her dreaming is the bush plum. Aboriginal women have their own ceremonies in which a series of song and dance cycles tell of the Ancestral Beings who walked the earth teaching women's law and ceremony to isolated groups living throughout the desert. Each tribe has its own set of women ancestors with different stories, designs and dances, but most of the ceremonies have one theme common to all groups - that of food gathering as the most important part of women's lives.
Bush Medicine Leaves
Bush Medicine is an important subject for many paintings by Aboriginal women. For thousands of years, Aboriginal people have known about the healing qualities of plants the women gather these plants, ground them, sometimes mix them with oil and use in traditional medicine, and ceremonies. Expression of abundance in life and nature is another feature of the spiritual responsibilities of Aboriginal women. The leaves, flowers, bark or seeds of certain plants are harvested in season or as needed. This is often done in groups so that skills and knowledge of the tradition is passed down from older to younger women. The plants are grounded to a pulp and boiled to extract the resin. The resin is mixed with fat to make ointments. Traditionally the stomach fat of kangaroos or emus was used and would keep for months in the harsh conditions of the desert. The medicine is used to heal wounds, bites, rashes, and as an insect repellent.
Leaves may also be steeped to make an infusion, applied to wounds to prevent infection. Sometimes a plant is powdered and applied to the chest to heal congestion. Leaves may also be laid over a fire and the smoke inhaled. Bush medicines are used extensively in traditional midwifery. Native lemon grass, mint, fuchsia (emu bush or eremophila), and Ti tree are common cures for coughs, colds, bites and scratches, and may also prevent infection. They often depict the leaves of the plants used in medicine with thick brush strokes. Small dots can represent seeds such as native millet or grass seed which are used in medicine and also an important part of the traditional food supply. Gloria Petyarre says that she would inhale the smoke or odor from the clematis vine to cure a headache or sometimes she adds it to a liquid and drinks it. Another common name for clematis vine is 'headache vine'. These are just a few of many known remedies.
Aboriginal people also recognise the therapeutic value of many regular food sources and used them in different dosages as tonics to relieve pain, fever and respiratory problems. They recognized the healing qualities of honey, known to be a natural antibacterial, and rich in vitamins. Bush medicine ceremonies are exclusive to women and carried out at certain times of the year when seasonal changes or rain might increase the harvest of a particular plant. These sacred ceremonies involve the painting of women's bodies with paint made from ochre, fat, ashes and even the plants themselves. Ceremonies always include singing and dancing, often at a special site related to that plant. Plant knowledge forms an important part of Aboriginal culture and reflects the complexity of Aboriginal people's relationships to land. Paintings play an important part in the cultivation and maintenance of traditional knowledge about bush medicine. The women artists from the Utopia region celebrate bush medicine in many of their paintings.
In the Dreamtime ancestral beings wandered over the vast deserts of Central Australia, teaching language, law and ceremony to the people living at isolated camps. These ancestors could be men or women. The most important women ancestors of the Central Desert were two women called the kunga-kutjarra, who were auntie and niece. On their travels they sat down at each of the desert camps and taught the women living there all of the song and dance cycles which were to be performed in sacred ceremonies. These related to the adventures and teachings of the kunga-kutjarra and were to be passed down in ceremonies and by word of mouth to succeeding generations. They also taught women how to hunt for food such as small animals, fruit, yams and berries, and how to find water soaks in the vast sandy deserts. Sacred designs which were to be painted onto women's bodies for ceremonies were once only illustrated in the sand, and it is only in recent times that these designs and colours have been allowed to be shown on canvas for all the world to see.
Ceremonies always involve song, dance and body decoration, the ownership, management and performance are dependent upon knowledge and status. The paintings often depict the women's ceremonial site near where, the women were painting their bodies with markings in preparation for the ceremony many of which revolve around bush tuckers, such as yam, banana, wild tomato, plum, onions, honey ants, witchetty grubs, nuts and berries. In their paintings they depict the implements they use, including digging sticks, grinding stones, and coolamons for carrying. Bodypainting carries deep spiritual significance for the Aboriginal people. They recognise the creative nature of this activity, which uses the human body itself as a living canvas for artistic expression. The use of particular designs and motifs denotes social position and the relationship of the individuals to their family group and to particular ancestors, totemic animals and tracts of land. In many situations’ individuals are completely transformed so they 'become' the spirit ancestor they are portraying in the dance. Patterns must conform to the ceremony being performed, and the women are not at liberty to adorn themselves with designs of free will. Elaborate ground constructions (sand paintings) are also made. Usually during ceremonies, their bodypainting depicts similar linear designs as those illustrated in the ground paintings. Ochres and Spinifex ashes are mixed with Kangaroo or Emu fat to make the body paint. Bodypainting ranges from simply smearing clay across the face, to intrinsic full body patterning. Owing however to the secret and sacred nature of some of the ceremonies involved no further interpretation is possible.