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Rene Wanuny Kulitja

Rene Wanuny Kulitja

Tiirtjingalpai – practicing care for the spirits of the dead (2023)


VIDEO DURATION | 4:44 minutes

Rene Wanuny Kulitja

From the curator

Over the last two years we have been creating this immersive experience with Senior artist Rene, both in Narrm Melbourne and in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Rene has shared her cultural stories and vision to take people to Anangu country and the audience into a solemn moment that is bound in tradition and place.

Renes installation references a cultural practice of listening out for spirits of Country particularly in the process of returning a gravesite to a state of safety.

A dead tree stands tall in the room, significant as wayward spirits sometimes seek refuge and wait under trees or within hollows. A piiwi (Tawny Frogmouth) is nestled between its tall branches. Rene, filmed in a dry riverbed, narrates to the room, inviting the audience to be attentive to the sounds and changing light– from sunset, to night, to dawn – and pay attention for birds and spirits. Tjanpi (spinifex grasses), sand and light reflect the desert country surrounding Rene’s home, Mutitjulu.

Artist Statement

“Nganana ninti. Kurunpa tjuta panya nganana kanyini alatjitu. Puntungkala kanyini. Kurunpa kutjupa nyinanyi nganampa ngurangka. Tjukurpa nyanga paluru iritinguru ngaranyi, nganampa katjanguru, untalpanguru. Ara pulka ankula tiirtjingalpaitjara.”

“We hold immense knowledge. We have multiple practices concerning the care and attention for the spirit realm. We have spirits in our bodies, and there are also spirits operating in our country. Knowledge of these matters has been in existence from the distant past, given to us by our great-grandmothers and grandfathers. It is a significant practice in our culture to return to a gravesite and perform the correct rites to attend to the spirit there and return the site to a state of safety.

When Anangu observe signs in the land they tell each other. There’s an insistence that spirits are persistently in the land, and we are knowledgeable about them, and we see them and experience them, feel them and hear them. Your mind, body and spirit sense these things. My two favorite places to camp are the river creek bed or red sand dune, connecting to the beauty and magnificence of Anangu country, connecting — spirit is joining up to country.”

kulila! | listen!

Mungaringu | it’s become night

tjulpul | bird

piiwi wangkanyi | tawny frogmouth is sounding

ulanyi | crying

katjarungkanyi | dawn is breaking

kurunkurunpa wiltja | the shadow of spirits

tjinturingu | it’s become light

Artwork Description

As you enter the room there is the glow of desert sunset, orange, yellows and pinks. Straight ahead of you is a projection that is in the window of the building the shape of a half circle. The projection is the artist sitting on a dry river bed under a rocky overhang, the colours of the river bed sand is white and the rocks are deep orange and red.

The artist is saying words in her language that speak to country and the night time coming, when the spirits are coming out.

To the left of this projection is a 6 metre tall tree made of cut steel, there is a silloutte of a mopoke owl in the tree. The tree casts a shadow on the opposite wall when it becomes night-time in the sequence and there are flashes of light that reference spirits in our periphery. There is a sound work that features a low Humm with sounds of Rene crying, mimicking the spirits and sound of the owl. The sequence takes you from dusk to dawn and then repeats.

Meet the artist


Through a series written responses, Shadow Spirit collaborators take us deep into the exhibition's ideas and the expertise that helped bring these works together. Rhett Hammerton is the photographer and videographer who helped Pitjantjatjara artist Rene Wanuny Kulitja realise her work and a long-time collaborator of Rene's.

Read more

Artwork Credits

Tiirtjingalpai – practicing care for the spirits of the dead (2023)
Rene Wanuny Kulitja (Pitjantjatjara)   

Creative Collaborator and Film Production | Rhett Hammerton  
Sound Designer and Composer | Samuel Pankhurst 
Interpreter | Beth Sometimes
Lighting Design | Studio John Fish
Metal Fabrication | Substraight

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