Parliament Forecourt Mosaic Showcases Western Desert Art

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains the image and name of a deceased person.

Parliament House Mosaic Parliament House Forecourt featuring Kumantje Jagamara’s artwork ‘Possum and Wallaby Dreaming’ (1985). Courtesy of The Daily Advertiser, 2022.

Front and centre in Parliament's forecourt is an incredible mosaic based on the late Warlpiri artist Kumantje Jagamara AM’s painting, Possum and Wallaby Dreaming (1985). This beautiful mosaic, completed in 1988, continues to serve as an important reminder to leaders in Canberra of Indigenous peoples' significant and continued connection to Country and its inhabitants. 

The artwork Possum and Wallaby Dreaming depicts a large gathering of people from the kangaroo, wallaby and goanna ancestors - very fitting for a place where people from all walks of life from across the nation come together and gather everyday. The mosaic is a contemporary interpretation of the Warlpiri peoples sand-painting tradition. This tradition holds many complex layers of meaning, which are drawn into sand and can only be interpreted by Warlpiri Elders. 

The 196-square-metre mosaic is made of more than 90,000 individual hand guillotined granite pieces, selected to best match the colours of the original painting (Canberra Times, 2019).  As seen in the aerial view photo below, recreating Possum and Wallaby Dreaming as a mosaic gives the artwork a sand like look, further connecting it to Warlpiri traditions.

Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic Aerial view of the Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic. By David Hempenstall, courtesy of the Canberra Times, 2019.

Kumantje Jagamara AM, also known as Michael Nelson Jagamara, was one of the most prominent artists to emerge from the Western Desert Art Movement. He was born in 1946 at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendumu, in Central Australia. Here, he was taught sand-paintings, body paintings and shield paintings by his grandfather, and became the custodian of the many Dreaming stories depicted through these artworks. Jagamara began painting in Papunya in 1981, and through observing older artists he developed his own artistic practice (Kate Owen Gallery, 2022).

Kumantje Jagamara painting a BMW Kumantje Jagamara AM painting a 1989 M3 Group A Race Version BMW. Courtesy of BMW, 2011.

Kumantje Jagamara went on to become incredibly successful, working on a whole range of projects. Some of Jagamara’s accomplishments include his: collaboration with BMW to paint a series of cars, 8.2 metre mural for the Sydney Opera House and his solo exhibition in New York. At the start of his career, Jagamara became the inaugural winner of the National Aboriginal Art Award in 1984, and then 1993 he was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his service to the arts (ABC News, 2022). 

The Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic has remained his most recognisable work. The artwork was referenced in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s letter to Jagamara’s family, which was read out at his funeral in 2021. The letter excerpt, featured in an article by the ABC News (2021), read: 

"Every time I look at the ‘Possum and Wallaby Dreaming’ mosaic at the entry to Parliament House I will be reminded of the important relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their land, and of the man behind the work."

The beautiful incorporation of Kumantje Jagamara’s artwork into Parliament's forecourt shows how Indigenous art is an integral part of Australia’s national identity. Possum and Wallaby Dreaming reinforces Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to Country and culture, and the importance of gathering together. 

Here at Yarn, we strongly believe in the ability art has to educate and bring people together. As we move towards reconciliation as a nation, we hope that art can continue to bring about a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture.