We don’t need a map brought the lively and enduring culture of the Martu – the traditional owners of a vast area of WA’s Western Desert.

This remarkable exhibition included the work of more than 30 artists and explored the Martu people, their way of life, the way they care for country and belong to it.

As well as illustrating the distinct contemporary visual language of the Martu, this landmark event broke down barriers by bringing together Martu and other artists to collaborate and exhibit together.

The exhibition featured stunning paintings, cutting-edge media collaborations, finely wrought objects, aerial desert photography, bush tucker and talks with the Martu artists and rangers.

Co-curated by Erin Coates; FAC Exhibitions Coordinator, Kathleen Sorensen; Martu artist and Cultural Consultant and Gabrielle Sullivan; Martumili Artists Manager. This project was a partnership between FAC, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa and Martumili Artists. It was made possible with support from BHP Billiton Iron Ore.


Karlamilyi – Amy French & Lily Long

This enormous, gorgeous painting by sisters Amy French and Lily Long testified to the vitality and diversity of indigenous painting in the Pilbara.

Karlamilyi is a complex and layered work, brimming with knowledge about native animals and plants, journeys through country, ancestral beings, waterholes and landforms.

French and Long’s distinct visual language challenge notions of desert painting, blending figurative and abstract imagery to present an energised landscape that is filled with elements of the seen and unseen world.

Writers and senior Martu translators worked with the artists to generate interpretative information about the stories and knowledge embedded in this significant painting. Karlamilyi was presented with an interpretive wall diagram and accompanied by recordings of French and Long singing.

Cannnibal Story: The paintings of Yunkurra Billy Atkins as animation

Kumpupirntily (Lake Disappointment) is beautiful and dangerous country; below its surface live powerful cannibal beings. This is Yunkurra Billy Atkins’ country, a senior Martu man, painter, carver and storyteller, whose striking paintings are brought to life by award-winning animator Sohan Ariel Hayes.

Depicting armies of honey ants, goannas, Martu weaponry and cannibals descending upon Kumpupirntily, Cannibal Story gave sound and motion to Yunkurra’s wondrous, original paintings.

Martu paintings

The Martu have a unique painting practice which is rapidly gaining international attentions. More than 40 works were selected for the exhibition, ranging from illustrative snapshots of ordinary daily life, such as camel hunts and desert football matches, to hypnotically beautiful paintings by senior artists.

These artworks were suffused with the Martu’s experience of the Western Desert and explore major sites, ancestoral stories, land use, fire burning practices and life in these remote communities.

The Phone Booth Project: Lily Hibberd & Curtis Taylor

Revealing the humourous, colloquial and adaptable nature of communication across the vast Western Desert, The Phone Booth Project featured a Pilbara phone booth, large-scale projections and multi-lingual dialogues.

Working collaboratively, Martu filmmaker Curtis Taylor and established Melbourne artist Lily Hibberd presented a video installation which explored communication and the use of phone booths in the remote desert communities.

Video installation: Lynette Wallworth

Internationally acclaimed artist Lynette Wallworth is renowned for her immersive video installations. Invited by Martu artists to respond to country, the Sydney-based artist travelled to Martu country with community members and long time collaborator Pete Brundle to learn about the Martu. The resulting work drew viewers into an understanding of the Martu and their inextricable connection to the Western Desert, via the eyes and ears of a newcomer to that country.

Portraits of The Mob: Tobias Titz

These direct and striking photographic portraits of the Martu artists and rangers were accompanied by their words and drawings. Photographer Titz (GER/AUS) has worked in the Pilbara for several years.

The Western Desert from Above

The vast expanses of the desert, ancient waterways, salt flats and ridges of sand hills featured in this series of aerial photographs that capture Martu country. An accompanying animated map detailed the layered complexity of the Western Desert, showing family travel routes and the movement of the Martu rangers as they care for country.

Martu baskets and carvings

Finely wrought baskets, expertly carved wooden spears, karli (Martu boomerang) and grass sandles showcased how the Martu blend traditional skills with new materials and techniques.

Giant inflatable basket: Thelma Judson

Based on a hand-made basket by Martu artist Thelma Judson, this giant, playful structure invited visitors inside.

Pilbara Garden

At the entrance of the grounds, the Pilbara Garden celebrated the arrival of the Martu Mob at FAC and brought the colours and flora of the Western Desert to Fremantle.

We Don’t Need a Map Media Release