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SALLY GABORI

Great swaths of color like cries or tears: the monumental canvases painted in the last ten years of her life by Sally Gabori are a cartography of the heart. Spreading their lagoon blue, their lemon yellow, their strident orange, and their deep white in parcels on the canvas, they tell the nostalgia of the native land and the pain of exile. Abstract landscapes in the colors of freedom gathered for the first time outside Australia at the Fondation Cartier. A beautiful tribute to the Aboriginal artist who died in 2015.

From the Kaiadilt Aboriginal community, Sally Gabori – whose tribal name, Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda, refers to her totemic ancestor (the dolphin) and her birthplace (Mirdidingki) – was born around 1924 on Bentinck Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia (Queensland). Until 1948, when a cyclone and a tidal wave made her native island uninhabitable and forced the last representatives of this coastal Aboriginal community to migrate to the neighboring island of Mornington (where they were “parked” and subjected to the assimilationist practices then in progress), Sally Gaborit was a dillybag weaver (traditional aboriginal bags woven from plant fibers to carry food) and was responsible, like most Kaiadilt women, for harvesting shellfish and maintaining the stone fish traps along the shores of her island. It was not until 2005, at the age of eighty, that she began to paint. 

Unclassifiable, seemingly sprung from nowhere, her abstract style, comparable to no other and very far from contemporary Aboriginal art, is riddled with small dots (dot painting) sown in the footsteps of dingoes, lizards, snakes, and other totemic animals crossing the desert dunes and river beds. Far from these symbolic and initiatory landscapes retracing the journeys of the “founding beings” traveled in the Dreamtime, during the period of creation of the world, Sally Gabori’s paintings are naked, devoid of signs and symbols, only color spreads. Spanning large, flat areas, they even seem to generate the forms, layering and embedding each other to create a kind of giant abstract mosaic. With an astonishing formal freedom, these large swathes of vibrant colors that seem to reflect, as if by ricochets, the light of the sky, the earth and the sea, are in fact memorial cartography: that of the places dear to the artist, places before the exodus … “This is my land, this is my sea, this is who I am,declared the one who equated painting with the “search for the original country.”1 

During the nine years of her artistic activity, Sally Gaborit painted more than 2,000 canvases – canvases up to 6 meters long and sometimes collaborative (made with her sisters, nieces or daughters). These large mosaic canvases, with their tangle of shapes framed in black, evoke the hydrography of her native land, with its islands and billabongs (dead meanders of a river or stream). 

An eye familiar with the landscapes of the Gulf of Carpentaria will be able to detect the stylized imprint of the salty land banks and sandy foreshore covered with mangrove or hemmed with coral reefs. It is, however, through the synthetic concretion of water, earth and sky, the paths of the Dream, that Sally Gaborit traces an immaterial space, mixing elements and temporalities (past, present, and future) in a quest to understand the world and its creation, according to the aboriginal concept designated by this term: Dreaming.

  1. In the Kayardilt language, the term duljaniji refers to the longing for home that is characteristic of exile, the “search for home.”

Fondation Cartier pour l’Art contemporain – 261, bd Raspail, Paris XIV –

Until November 6

https://www.fondationcartier.com/presse/article/sally-gabori

STÉPHANIE DULOUT

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