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Shirley Macnamara

Shirley Macnamara

Shirley Macnamara was born in northwest Queensland and spent most of her early childhood on vast pastoral properties on the Barkly Tablelands in Queensland and in the Northern Territory where her parents Clargie and Ruby Saltmere lived and worked. Known as ‘Spinifex Country’, Macnamara maintains close ties to the region, including her mother’s traditional Country at Camooweal, Indjalandji Dhidhanu and her late father’s Country at Lake Nash, Alyawarr. 

Macnamara’s artistic practice draws upon her deep connection to the land in far north-west Queensland, using natural materials including spinifex, ochre, animal bones and feathers to create her sculptural objects such as guutu (vessels), baskets and large installations that reflect forms found in nature. Most of the material for her work are found while she is out mustering on horseback. Macnamara takes note of where the materials are and returns later to retrieve them.

Macnamara works predominantly with spinifex, a native grass that grows in abundance throughout remote Australia, which she weaves to create objects and sculptures that recall the Country from which it was formed with the natural features of the land wielding a powerful aesthetic and cultural influence on the design of each piece. Her works are an evocative representation of the harsh, dry, yet beautiful region of her traditional Indjalandji Country surrounding Camooweal and her home on Mt Guide in far north-west Queensland.

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. She is an artist of great insight, creating poetic objects of immense beauty and poignancy. 

In 2017, Macnamara won the prestigious Wandjuk Marika Memorial Three-Dimensional Award at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards and in 2019 she was honoured with a major solo retrospective exhibition, entitled Shirley Macnamara - Dyinala Nganinya, and publication at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.

In 2021-23 Macnamara's work will be included in a touring survey exhibition of contemporary art from the collection of the Australian War Memorial entitled, Art in Conflict. In 2022 Macnamara held a solo exhibition at Alcaston Gallery entitled 'Yesterday' and she was featured in the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair's 'Big Sculpture Showcase' and the Cairns Art Gallery's 'Faceless Transforming Identity' exhibition.

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, 2022

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