Born at Titjikala with parents from Erldunda and Aputula (formerly known as Finke) regions, Sally Nangala Mulda went to school at Amoonguna
when her family moved there. She married and had her only child as a young woman but tragically lost both her husband and baby
daughter. After losing the use of her left arm in a childhood accident, Mulda later faced the challenge of losing her sight in one
eye. Widowed and without children Mulda lived with friends and extended family in Alice Springs for many years. Having never
painted before joining Tangentyere Artists in 2008, from the outset she sought to record those interactions that constitute
life for so many Aboriginal people today.
Initially Mulda struggled with painting because of her compromised vision, but following surgery on her good eye, she grew in
confidence to create her own rich and fluid figurative style that celebrates her place in the world. Mulda loosely applies layers
of colour in broad brush strokes to depict the world around her.
Of Mulda’s domestic environment, a tap drips into a bowl for the dogs, children play, men and women sit in the shade
occasionally playing cards, making punu and seed jewellery, playing with babies, celebrating important events, occasionally
drinking while ranges in the background pulse with the heat or the stars shine in clear skies. Further afield, Sally Mulda explores life
since the Intervention: camping in the riverbed in swags, Council rangers moving people on, police pouring out grog or taking
people off to sober up. Mulda observes minutiae, such as the navy blue Northern Territory police uniform introduced in early
Mulda records events she witnesses and experiences without any particular judgement. It is as it is. Her oeuvre represents a
journalistic approach to local situations. This is especially pertinent in that many of her paintings include text that explains
each scene in strong and simple language. This form of social commentary on the daily lives of Town Camp residents in Alice
Springs represents an important catalogue of lived experiences, captured for posterity. As Mulda explained about her many
years living at Little Sisters Town Camp located at the base of Mt Gillen, just south of Heavitree Gap, 'Us grownups sitting one
side, all’a kids playing and making noise on the other, all’a dogs - big - little - all running round, making noise, all feeling good for
home, you know?'
In 2011, Mulda moved to Abbo ’s Town Camp, located by the Todd River. Life is slightly different for her there and as a result of
the move, Mulda’s paintings, some including text, continue to reveal more fascinating insights about life today in Central
Australia. Mulda was a finalist in the Telstra 2012 National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and was the winner of
the 2011 'Rights on Show' Annual Human Rights Art Award. Her work has been acquired by many private collections and several
by Terazita Turner-Young
Sally M. Nangala Mulda lives at Abbott’s Town Camp, near the riverbed of the Todd River in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Born in Titjikala, 130 km south of Mparntwe, she went to school in Amoonguna. Her childhood wasn’t stable because she had difficulties with her vision and lost the use of her left arm due to an accident. Time went on, and Sally moved closer to town with her family, eventually settling in Mparntwe.
Sally is known for her figurative and naïve painting style. She uses bright colours roughly applied across the canvas to illustrate her world; from the ranges that surround Mparntwe in the background, to the trees, saltbushes, homes, waterholes, shops, figures and animals that populate each scene. Sally includes text in cursive script that is unique to her practice and acts as an introduction to the painting’s subject. She doesn’t mince her words; she is brutally honest about the presence of police, alcohol consumption, and people sleeping outside because they don’t have enough money to pay for a power card to connect electricity to their homes. She contrasts this with text about people doing everyday activities like shopping, sleeping and cooking food, indicating just how ingrained and ‘normal’ confronting situations such as a constant police presence are in her world. Her paintings are stories from her lived experience and from the many Town Camp residents who face the same social and political issues.
Early in her career, Sally struggled because of her compromised vision but following surgery she gained confidence and has since developed her own dynamic and fluid style. Many of her paintings are about the contact between the Indigenous community and the Northern Territory police. Sally paints these stories with pain, but it gives her a release to be able to share them. The NT Intervention, a 2007 Federal Government policy program that was brutal in its enforcement and roundly prejudicial in its targeting of Indigenous communities, dramatically changed the lives of First Nations Australians in Mparntwe and elsewhere. New laws and regulations, including restrictions on the sale of alcohol, were enforced, jobs were cut and employment programs were discontinued. This caused overcrowding in most Town Camps, which hasn’t improved. (1) Sally describes this increase of police presence: ‘More humbug from policeman. Why we not allowed to buy alcohol? Or drink it at home in our own place like everybody else?’ (2)
In the NT, your eligibility to purchase alcohol depends on your address. If you live in a remote or Town Camp community, you are not permitted to buy and consume alcohol. These restrictions tend to cause a lot of humbug for alcohol and other possessions within the town. Most of the time alcohol is consumed due to joblessness, homelessness, and the pain and grief that our people suffer.
Despite the hardship, Sally enjoys staying in Abbott’s Town Camp surrounded by her Luritja families. It’s her home away from home.
Sally fills the gallery walls with the stories most are not willing to tell – not with the intention to guilt an audience, nor with a conscious decision to be a political artist, but simply by painting what she experiences. These are her true stories.
(2) ‘Humbug’ is a term used by Aboriginal people to describe the act of constantly hindering a person or peoples for something they may or may not have to give away; interview between the artist and author, August 2018.
Sally M Nangala Mulda
Tangentyere Artists, Alice Springs
Born Titjikala Region 1957
Languages Arrernte, Luritja, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara
'Still Here: Living at This Town Camp, Painting at This Art Centre, Telling My Story', Edwina Corlette Gallery, Brisbane
Sally M Nangala Mulda’s work is a form of documentary storytelling. She started painting in 2008 and has frequently portrayed town camp life since the 2007 Northern Territory intervention: people camping in the riverbed in swags, council rangers moving people on, people cooking kangaroo tail down the creek. Her practice represents an important catalogue of lived experience of town camp life and colonisation.
The Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.
Sally Mulda's painting 'Old Days at Amoonguna' depicts the art centre's toyota picking up all the woman for painting. That kungka Nadine driving. Long time ago I use to get picked up at Little Sisters. Now Abbott’s Camp. Every day. We listen to CAAMA radio. Good ways. Everybody talkin’ talkin’. This one [middle] – three woman, they on the hospital lawn, playing card for money. Pay day. Night time [right panel] four woman by the fire at town camp. They sitting round the fire at night time. Keeping warm, talking story. Maybe they by the fire because no power card? This is town camp life. Every day.
This open competition is judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW. Finalists are displayed in an exhibition at the Gallery (although in the early years all entrants were hung). Although it is a non-acquisitive prize, several of the entries are now part of the Gallery’s collection.
Born in Titjikala in 1957, Mulda experienced a childhood accident that left her with impaired vision, but surgery has improved her sight. Exhibiting since 2008, she creates bright canvases with distinctive cursive text, depicting scenes of everyday life within Abbott’s Camp and drawing attention to social and political issues with emotional honesty.
In this portrait, the artist is wearing the stripey top and sits with her daughter, Louise Abbott. The other two people cooking roo tails on the fire represent all town camp women. As Mulda puts it: they are ‘maybe me and Louise, maybe any womans. This is town camp life. Every day.’
Mulda is also a finalist in this year’s Sulman Prize.
Established in 2015, the Bayside Acquisitive Art Prize is a celebration of contemporary Australian painting. The finalist exhibition brings together a broad range of artists, both established and lesser known, whose varied approaches to the painted medium conveys the breadth and diversity of painting in Australia today.
The annual prize is an important opportunity for Bayside City Council to add exceptional works of art to its collection and to promote art and artists as a valuable part of the Bayside community.
Sally Mulda's work 'Town Camp Stories' 2020 is a finalist in this year's prize.
Sally Nangala Mulda has been selected as a finalist in the 2019 Sulman Prize, administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.
Sally says of her working this years prize:
This is me outside my home at Abbott’s Town Camp in Alice Springs feeding my cats. Little cat, mother cat. One woman, my family, playing cards. Nobody bothering anybody. No papa bothering the cats! We are just sitting quietly. I like quiet. Nobody talking.
Sally M Nagala Mulda, 2019
Image: Sally feeding little cat, mother cat, acrylic on linen, 76 x 92 cm
Louise Martin-Chew writes about Sally Nangala Mulda's life and painting for Art/Edit magazine. She says:
'WHAT IS MOST DISTINCTIVE about the paintings of Sally M. Nangala Mulda is that they tell us just how it is to live in Abbott’s Town Camp, not far from the mostly dry Todd River bed in Alice Springs (Mparntwe). Many of the paintings produced by Indigenous artists working out of the region use colour and pattern to evoke the romance of their connections to Country. However, Sally’s approach delivers the gritty reality of the place in which she lives, the interactions between police and Aboriginal people, the supermarket as the source of “a feed”, the tension around alcohol consumption and people sleeping rough, all set amongst saltbush, waterholes, homes and shops.'
On Sally Nangala Mulda's work for 'The National' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Snack Syndicate for Running Dog writes:
'Sally Mulda’s narrative style mimics the pedantic, forensic language of the state while at the same time showing that such language tends to obfuscate its subjects—people who live and die. Mulda’s frank descriptions of the Town Camp index the countless different ways that black life is both constrained by, and always in excess of, white law.
Together, the paintings in the exhibition are quietly unsettling, staging a series of encounters that produce both minor affects (annoyance, confusion, amusement, affection) and their major implications. Engaging with the paintings, we feel the enormity of living under occupation, as well as the conviction that such enormity can never be total.'
Curator Isobel Parker Philip talks about Sally Mulda's work for 'The National' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales:
'Sally Nangala Mulda is an artist who lives in Abbott's Town Camp in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
She paints scenes from her daily life. She paints people having breakfast. She paints going to the football. She paints people going to sleep. She also paints the routine and intrusive presence of the police amongst the indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
All of these scenes are painted with the same frank and stark honesty. There is a normalisation of the police presence amongst the Indigenous community that is shocking to see at first and is amplified by the regularity with which Sally paints it and that we see it again and again across the installation.
This reminds us about what life looks like for a huge portion of our Indigenous people. In this work we see the lived effects of the 2007 Northern Territory intervention. It's a brutal reminder about what reality can really look like.
Sally paints her figurative scenes and then applies text on top of them to tether each work to a particular time and place. These are diaristic documents. They're paintings that do the job of photographs or snapshots. There's a kind of direct relationship between these scenes and the real world. We read them as snapshots. We read them as kind of episodes from life as it is lived.'
This is us, this is the way it is – that’s what Sally Mulda’s paintings of life seem to say. Paddy wagons in the river, policemen pouring out grog, an assortment of bottles and cans lying on the ground; four disconsolate people, probably men, walking away. Dogs, children sleeping and everything in between that makes up life in the Alice Springs Town Camps, are depicted in her paintings, raw and free.
10 – 30 April 2024
SALLY M NANGALA MULDA
28 February 2024 – 19 March 2024 ‘How To Swim’Curated by Sally Andersonfeaturing Lydia Balbal, Kirsty Budge, Eleanor Louise Butt, Mark Maurangi Carrol, Jedda-Daisy Culley, James Drinkwater, Adrienne Gaha, Bridie Gillman, Simone Griffin, Rhys Lee, Eytan Messiah, Sally M Nangala Mulda, Pia Murphy, Miranda Skoczek, John Smith, Ken Whisson, Bugai Whyoulter, Sally Anderson