Critics’ Picks

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Thundi, 2010, Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 78 × 59 1/2".

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Thundi, 2010, Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 78 × 59 1/2".


Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain
261 boulevard Raspail
July 3–November 6, 2022

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s paintings have a proprioceptive pull. Their gulfs of color are fed by the late artist’s sweeping ken of the sandbars, salt pans, and billabongs of her native Bentinck Island, off Queensland’s northwestern coast. In 1948, the entire Kaiadilt people, including a newlywed Gabori, were forcibly uprooted from Bentinck by missionaries; forty-five years passed before she and fellow survivors could revisit home. Gabori began painting only in 2005, when she was already in her eighties. She unleashed onto the canvas habitats long harbored in her inner eye, clenched onto during exile and moments of cultural erasure.

Showcasing thirty-one canvases from among the two thousand works that Gabori produced before her death in 2015, this first solo survey outside Australia points to the expansiveness of contemporary Aboriginal art beyond what Judith Ryan has called “the ethnographic essentialism of ochres.” Rarely mixing or diluting pigments, Gabori applied bold orange, teal, magenta, and royal-blue acrylics straight from the tub to the upright canvas. In Dibirdibi Country, 2008, vivid swaths tumble against one another in high contrast, while in Thundi, 2010, they cream with the still-wet primer to create lit-from-within pastels. More than mere depictions, the paintings seem to summon the myriad convergences of land, sea, and sky.

In their gestural confidence and dauntless scale (most works here span over five meters), these paintings suggest an autochthonous Abstract Expressionism. Yet each work hurls before us a palpable place cherished by its maker. The sense of duljaniij—“seeking country” in the Kaiadilts’ language of Kayardilt—courses throughout the exhibition, finding furious majesty in the face of loss.