Napolean Oui

Cairns QLD

  • (far left)
 Fish Trap  2014
 Guyu Muyal  2014
    (right) Rainforest, Saltwater  2014
    (far right)
 Shield Design  2014
    Oilstick on bark cloth
    Dimensions: 195 x 78 cm (framed)
    Courtesy of the artist and 
Mossenson Galleries, Perth

I am a rainforest man of the Tjapukai tribe, and I made these paintings of fish traps for Saltwater Country. I’d seen it when I was little; they used to make fish traps out of stone at the ocean and when I was young, my cousin and I had a go at making one. So they used to make stone dams and they would build the rocks up and, while the women went into the mangroves to look for shellfish, the men would wait for the tide to go out and the men would stand in the water with spears and they would see if there were any fish caught in the traps – that’s what my painting is all about.

The women would make this bark cloth from a certain tree – stringybark tree – soak it and pound it. What I’m trying to do in the 2000s is to take that traditional design but to make it contemporary.

Through art I explore my connection to the rainforest and my culture in an authentic rainforest style. The paintings evoke the essence of the almost abstract art found on the ancient traditional rainforest shields. These are the largest found in Australia and traditionally provided a wonderful ‘canvas’ for this unique art form.

The art incorporates bold stylised designs and strong ochre colours highlighted by black outlines, creating a style that is truly unique – found only in the rainforest region of far north Queensland and is unlike any other Aboriginal art. It is these designs that inspire my contemporary interpretation onto bark cloth and canvas.

A father will make his son a shield and the father will sit up one end and the son will sit up the other end. Whatever the father would paint on his side, the son would paint the same on the other side. But the son will add something. It is like a father–and–son diary and he will cherish that shield for his life. Only certain men knew how to make shields and paint them, not everybody could do it.

Napolean Oui
Cairns, 15 August 2013, and Artist statement

Napolean Oui, 2014
Photography: Jo-Anne Driessens