In her paintings, Michelle applies Tiwi earth pigments using the Kayimwagakimi comb — a painting tool made from locally harvested ironwood and used in Tiwi ceremonial body painting. In the long-standing tradition of her ancestors she utilises natural ochres sourced on Country around Milikapiti. They are collected, crushed and burned into the three traditional colours of the island landscape: white, yellow and red.
“Artwork makes me think about the wulimawi (old people)…like going out on Country, same feeling. It makes me feel emotional, makes me think about my Ancestors and how they used to live. We need to keep that culture alive through art, ceremony and spending time on Country.” – Michelle Woody Minnapinni
Michelle’s painterly forms are both reminiscent of Winga (Sea) and based on various Tiwi stories. These include Japarra (moon man), Japalinga (the stars), bush food and hunting. Over time Michelle is developing her own Jilamara designs which she is using to express these important cultural stories and representations of Country.
In 2020 Michelle was the winner of the King Wood and Mallesons Contemporary Indigenous Art Award. She is also heavily involved in governance, leadership and the teaching of culture at Jilamara Arts. She is the organisation’s current president, a director at ANKAA, she manages the historical collection held in the Mulluwurri Museum and holds a Diploma in Conservation at the Grimwade Centre at the University of Melbourne. She is an alumni of the Wesfarmers Indigenous Leadership Program at the National Gallery of Australia and the history of Tiwi culture is very important to her and her artwork. In addition to her painting practice she also works in the weaving and making of Tiwi ceremonial ornaments like the marruwi (pandanus skirt).
“The Muluwurri Museum is really special to me and all the Tiwi people, all the community and the artists. It is important because it holds so much of our history and art in one place. It is a place where you can see things from parlingarri (old times) from when our ancestors were alive, to ningani (today).” – Michelle Woody Minnapinni<