Born in north-west Queensland, Shirley Macnamara spent most of her early childhood moving between remote cattle stations with her parents and siblings, across Camooweal in Queensland, the Alyawarr Lands in the Northern Territory, and its surrounding Country. Macnamara holds close ties to both Camooweal, Indjalandji-Dhidhanu – her mother’s traditional Country, and Alyawarr Lands – which was her late father’s Country.
As an artist, Macnamara draws inspiration from her beloved bush Country, and favours using natural materials to create objects such as guutu (vessels), baskets, and large installations that reflect forms in nature. Most of the material for her work, such as bones, feathers, seeds and wax, are found while she is out mustering, as she has a good vantage point from horseback. Macnamara takes note of where the materials are and returns later to retrieve them. She works mostly with Spinifex, a native grass that grows in abundance throughout remote Australia, which she weaves to create objects and sculptures that reflect her environment and their association with climate, earth, and life, past and present. Macnamara uses natural materials that embody strength and utility; to Shirley, Spinifex signifies the resilience of her people, as well as shaping her local landscape, and her Spinifex creations are often drawn from personal experience and memories.
Macnamara’s time-consuming, considered and process-based practice reveals sophisticated multi-layered meanings that draw upon issues of environment, history, politics, culture, family, and deeply personal emotions. Shirley Macnamara is an artist of great insight, creating poetic objects of immense beauty and poignancy.
In 2019 – 2020, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane held a major solo retrospective entitled Shirley Macnamara - Dyinala Nganinya with a comprehensive publication to accompany the exhibition. Shirley was also a finalist in 15 Artists at Redcliffe Art Gallery, Queensland.
In 2021-23 work by Shirley Macnamara will be included in a touring survey exhibition of contemporary art from the collection of the Australian War Memorial entitled, Art in Conflict. The exhibition opened in August 2021 at the SH Ervin Gallery in Sydney, New South Wales, and in will be shown at the Shepparton Art Museum in Shepparton, Victoria and the Ipswich Regional Gallery in Ipswich, Queensland in 2022, and at the Tamworth Regional Gallery in Tamworth, New South Wales and the Glasshouse in Port Macquarie, New South Wales in 2023.
Shirley Macnamara’s artworks have been collected by public institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum, Brisbane, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and Cairns Regional Gallery, Cairns.
© The Artist & Alcaston Gallery, 2021
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