Kedela wer kalyakoorl ngalak Wadjak boodjak yaak.

Today and always, we stand on the traditional land of the Whadjuk Noongar people.

Ngarralja Tommy May. Photo by Sarah Landro.

Ngarralja Tommy May

Commission | State Collection
Gallery 02

An ambitious new sculptural work from one of Australia's most significant Aboriginal artists.

AGWA presents a brand new sculptural commission from award-winning Wangkajunga/Walmajarri artist Ngarralja Tommy May. The work, which takes the form of a golden rain cloud and hangs suspended from AGWA’s ceiling in aluminium and laser-cut brass, positions Ngarralja firmly within global contemporary art dialogues about climate and Indigenous systems of caring for Country.

Born at Yarrnkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert, Ngarralja went on to play an instrumental role in establishing models for Aboriginal economic and cultural survival and autonomy through art-making in the 1970s and 80s when he and his contemporaries were forced off Country and could no longer work as stockmen. He dances and sings Kurtal, a ceremony relating to the main jila [living waterhole] in his country. A painter, carver and printmaker, Ngarralja’s practice is related to a deep sense of pride that comes with being born in the desert: he uses art to educate, inspire and show his love of Country.

“With an artistic career spanning more than three decades, Ngarralja Tommy May’s triumphant artwork symbolises the artist at the height of his creative powers.” — Telstra NATSIAA Judges on Ngarralja’s Wirrkanja 2020

Ngarralja’s importance to the arts and cultural community in Fitzroy Crossing and the broader Kimberley region can’t be overstated. His leadership helped lay the foundation for remote art centres as we know them today.

This work was commissioned with funds generously bequeathed by the late Bonice Tollafield.

Artist Bio

Ngarralja Tommy May is a Wangkajunga/Walmajarri artist who lives with his children at Mindi Rardi Community in Fitzroy Crossing and works at Mangkaja Arts. He is one of the only living artists of the historic Ngurarra Canvas, a giant collaborative painting of the Great Sandy Desert, made by more than 60 senior Traditional Owners as Australia’s first official artistic Native Title Document. 

He is also a founding member of the Karrayili Adult Education Centre, where he learnt to read and write his own language and English. He is the former Deputy Chairman of Mangkaja Arts and former Chairman of Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC). Ngarralja was also an executive for 21 years on the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) Board of Directors. 

Read more