Joonba, junba and juju are three names from Kimberley Aboriginal languages for a specific form of performance driven by narrative. In Gija and Miriwoong languages the word is joonba, in Ngarinyin junba and in Bunuba country juju. Bringing together different countries and language groups from across the Kimberley, Joonba, Junba, Juju is part of a gradually unfolding project that has strengthened these song and dance cycles in the region.
This exhibition is one in a series by an alliance of four leading Aboriginal-owned art centres in the Kimberley working together as Kimberley Aboriginal Artists (KAA). Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency, Mowanjum Arts and Culture Centre, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and Warmun Art Centre present: Joonba, Junba, Juju – an exhibition focused on the power of material objects made and used for these song and dance cycles, complemented by digital media presentations of these performances.
With rising dust, a thick crust of body paint and songs in diverse Aboriginal languages, the sharing of performance unfolds. Central to this project from its inception has been the concept of wirnan in the East and wunan in the West. In the past, groups travelled on foot to visit neighbouring and distant communities. Wirnan/wunan refers partly to the formal network whereby people exchanged objects, materials and ideas. Transactions were governed by protocols determined by relationships of mutual obligation and kinship. Just as commodities such as shells, spear shafts, honey, meat, fruit and vegetables, wax and string made from kangaroo sinew were traded – so too were song cycles.
These cycles of song and dance incorporate painting, theatre, story and history. A socially significant form of entertainment, they are learned from childhood and practiced throughout life. They are intrinsic to Aboriginal art and cultural practice across the north of Western Australia.
The artefacts presented in Joonba, Junba Juju are cultural documents that are still in use today. The objects and narratives are at once ephemeral and changing yet they hold-steady knowledge specific to the languages and country of their genesis. Handcrafted objects that may appear humble often articulate complex narratives that encode constellations of knowledge associated with recent histories, Ngarranggarni (Dreaming), ethics and deeply personal experiences.
Working together, singers, dancers, objects and the audience become key to the telling and retelling of story. In this show are masks, headdresses, painted dance boards, thread-cross totems, spears, sticks and effigies of animals, characters and other spirit entities. These are objects that have been produced today but they draw from, and are part of, a much longer cultural continuum.
The narratives, choreography, music and design of a song cycle are either developed by senior men and women or they can be gifted by a spirit through a series of dreams. In this way they are spiritual but also very human creations arising from personal experiences, local environments and particular moments in time. These individuals then become the custodian responsible for the direction, performance and circulation of their joonba, junba or juju. There are multiple layers of meaning in operation that are not equally available to every singer, dancer or audience member; one learns and gathers greater depths of understanding over time.
Over the past four years, KAA art centres have worked together to facilitate the practice and sharing of joonba, junba and juju within and between our communities. This project has initiated camps, recordings and public and community performances which have seen senior artists, singers and dancers continue to pass on their knowledge and skills to younger generations.
In many ways contemporary art practice in the north of Western Australia sprang from joonba, junba and juju. The inspiring continuum of this art form will undoubtedly lead to new incarnations and influences across the spectrum of art and cultural practice in the Kimberley today. Understandings of this art practice outside of the region may be in its infancy but the strength of this practice locally is full of possibilities.
These performances have always been exciting, revelatory and shape-shifting experiences. It is in the viewing and appreciation of joonba, junba and juju by audiences today, within and outside of their communities of origin, where revelation now lies.
Joonba, Junba, Juju has received support from the Department of Culture and the Arts, Western Australia and the Federal Government through the Ministry for the Arts. It is supported by UTS Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning.
We are honoured to be performing alongside Sydney performers, Richard Greene, Clarence Slockee and Matthew Doyle in the true spirit of wirnan/wunan, through which this project emerged.
To learn more visit the UTS ART Education resource page