This Indigenous Woman Took Up Painting In Her 90s, And Now She’s World-Renowned


One Aboriginal artist from Australia is recording a lifetime of spiritual wisdom into her paintings.

At 105 years-old, Daisy Loongkoonan is the oldest living speaker of the Nyikina language, spoken by no less than a few hundred people. Due to indigenous people’s births not officially being recorded by the Australian government during this period, she herself estimates that she was born around 1910. Loongkoonan grew up in the country’s western Kimberley lands where she learned to herd cattle and sheep, as well as ride horses, on a ranch: the artist is also esteemed as an elder and matriarch.

“Loongkoonan’s work challenges expectations about what some international collectors expect of Aboriginal art — dot and ochres,” notes Mary Durack, an Aboriginal art dealer, tells Women In The World. “Loongkoonan’s work doesn’t comply with this is what makes her works so special. She is completely original.”

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Loongkoonan created over 380 art pieces that led to high-profile exposures in the art world, glowing reviews, and numerous art awards, an incredible feat for a woman who took up painting in her 90s. Using the knowledge she has gained throughout her lifetime, art became a vessel for “recording memories of her country and cultural appreciation.”

“I had a good life on the stations and three husbands. Today I am a single woman, and I like to travel about looking at Country and visiting Countrymen,” she explains in a statement. “I still enjoy footwalking my country, showing the young people to chase barni (goannas) and catch fish.”

In February of this year, she was honored with her first international exhibition, Yimardoowarra: Artist of the River.

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“If we really want the world to recognize the Aboriginal Australian movement for the great contemporary art movement that it is we do have to start recognizing the achievements of the individual innovators. And Loongkoonan is doing work that is deeply contemporary and that has no obvious precedent. There is a wealth of art-making traditions that go into producing this very idiosyncratic body of work,” says art curator, Henry Skerrit. “This is a world view that has been shaped by cultures coming into collision in historically unprecedented ways. And the collisions didn’t occur just once but over and over again throughout her life, living on the frontier during a period when there were still people living nomadically throughout the Kimberley.”