During their last Australian tour, U2 honored their international female trailblazers by showing a photo every time they performed their hit song.
But the Indigenous women who led the face-long line-up, which included images of Olympian Cathy Freeman and comedian Hannah Gadsby, said the band was named Ultra Violet (Light My). Created with support from the Fund and The Walkley Foundation.
She was a Thancoupie born in 1937 as Gloria Fletcher James, one of Australia’s greatest contemporary potters.
Her former agent Jenny Isaacs said it was a sensational moment to recognize her lifelong friend who died in 2011.
Isaacs told AAP, “I got a message from the UK or something saying, ‘We own the copyright to U2. I received it,” he said.
“I was able to get them to do it. It was great.”
However, it was no great surprise to contemporaries and friends that the world-famous band celebrated the Elders of the Native West of Cape York.
Thancoupie’s art is exhibited in galleries around the world. Her monumental silver elan sculpture, her last major work, adorns the entrance to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
In recent years Mr. Isaacs has been asked by Australian galleries and institutions to source more of his work.
“It’s really a perception that they overlooked the pottery and didn’t consider her work to be of sufficient value at the time,” she says.
“I look for works from different institutions because they point out that ‘she’s not very represented’.”
Isaacs says Sancoupy was not generally recognized in Australia because ceramics was not considered a superior art form like painting.
Even some of the upper echelons of the ceramic scene disapproved of Tankupi’s departure from the generally accepted principles and forms he had studied at East Sydney Technical College in the late 1960s.
Rather than the smooth, glossy Japanese-style tea bowls that were popular at the time, Tankupi’s work was rough and uneven, with free and creative application of color.
She used kitchen utensils and household items in her clay molds, aiming for a surface effect that resembled nature and bush.
Later, her inventive spirit spawned classic handprint globular works – rough, tawny spheres and tales of the land drawn on thick tiles.
Representing fertility and life cycles, her eggs and spheres are depicted in the presence of animals, plants and creators from her traditional country in North Queensland.
“It was a very rustic, indigenous approach, so it was pretty new,” says Isaacs.
“It seems they cooked the mullet over charcoal, but a Caucasian chef might grill the fish on a high-end grill or something.
“She was doing the same thing with pottery and it was nice to eat.”
Thancoupie has been drawn to clay more than anything else since he first saw students working with it at a university in Sydney.
“I enjoy pottery because I feel familiar and when I am working with clay, I am in peace and harmony with clay (earth), kiln fire (fire) and water (sea and clay moisture). Air (the fresh air of Trinity Beach),” explains the artist in Isaac’s 1982 book Potter’s Thanksgiving.
“That’s what I mean by approaching life.”
Weipa potter and ceramist Lyn Bates also finds her friend’s art authentic because of the imperfections other potters avoid.
The pair “talked about clay 24/7,” and Ms. Bates occasionally pushed Tankupi’s latest creations into her kiln to fire.
“They were still rough and some even had small cracks,” says Bates.
“She never smoothed things out…it was just left as it was.”
Thancoupie has some pieces imbued in her own body, like her quirky knee pot.
She picked up a ball of clay, crushed it on her lap, and made a bowl with her handprint on the rim.
“They’re incredible because it’s actually her hand…it was another pottery form.It was hers.It was hers alone.”
Sancoupy spent most of his time working from his home studio in Trinity Beach near Cairns and preparing for many exhibitions.
But her spiritual place was the beach of Bushat, north of Weipa.
There she hosted holiday camps for local children, both indigenous and non-indigenous, and sought to preserve their language and culture.
The family of Mapoon contemporary artist Daphne de Jersey helped organize these camps.
She first met a great artist who was a friend of her parents when she was eight years old at a studio in Trinity Beach.
“I thought, ‘Who’s this weird woman in this house surrounded by shrubs and pottery?'” says de Jerzy.
She was mentored by Thancoupie and now runs a creative collective for Weipa, Mapoon and Napranum artists called Wei’ Num Arts.
De Jersey learned from Tancoupie about finding muses in her hometown.
“She always put everything back in place,” she says.
Sancoupy taught De Jersey traditional techniques such as beach hibiscus and sisal weaving. Her paintings blend modern techniques with indigenous meanings and reflect the style of her leader.
The great sculptor’s deep connection to her country, as well as her authenticity and warmth, are glimpsed at the end of the 1972 land ownership film Ningla A-Na.
Just before the credits roll, a young Tancoupie is seen singing softly while working clay on a potter’s wheel.
“Here we are brothers. Look at it that way and the story comes to us,” says the artist.
“Come closer, come closer, never look back, the sun is setting”
Later in life, when signing her work, Tancoupi used the name of her birth ritual, ‘Tanakpi’. It means “wattle flower”.
More than a decade after her death, her memory and artistic influence still waft through the Western Cape like perfume from the golden blossoms of her namesake tree.
She left a small amount in her will to support young indigenous artists in the area. Thancoupie Bursary has been awarding scholarships for 10 years and in 2022 she will have 8.
Ms Isaacs, who runs the program as executor of a friend’s fortune, says she’s happy that Tankoopy is getting more mainstream recognition in Australia.It’s only a matter of time, she said. I knew
“There are banknotes with David Unaipon on them,” she says.
“He was the great early indigenous scientist we rediscovered, and she too is on the way to being rediscovered.
“Sun Coupy is unique because she took up another art medium and used the earth itself. It took people a long time to understand.Contemporary.
“And she’s ours. She’s Australian, she’s an Indigenous Australian woman. Before her time.”
This AAP article was produced with support from the Meta Australian News Fund and The Walkley Foundation.
Suncoupies Bloom Again in Far North Qld
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