This is a tribute to the life and work of Cookie – Paddy Japaljarri Stewart – by his friend Liam Campbell.
Paddy ‘Cookie’ Japaljarri Stewart was a Warlpiri and Anmatjerre man born at Mungapunju, which is south of present day Yuendumu in the Northern Territory. He was born sometime in 1940 and died on 30 November 2013. He will be remebered at a ceremony at Yuendumu this coming weekend.
He had responsibility for a large number of Jukurrpa (Dreamings) in the country north-west of Alice Springs. As a young man he worked on nearby stations and travelled extensively throughout the Northern Territory and into Queensland as a drover.
I got to know Cookie when I worked at the art centre, but also because I was recording the life story of Darby Jampijinpa Ross who had nominated him as ‘kurdungurlu‘ for his story.
This has some significance in Warlpiri culture, but basically meant that we ended up spending a lot of time driving and visiting sites together, especially when Darby didn’t feel well enough to come.
Cookie took me through his country east of Yuendumu. He told me about his Jukurrpa as we travelled; sometimes complicated journeys that covered long distances and other times centred on a particular place.
Stories of love and jealousy, hair string and large orange boulders, possums and native cats fighting. There were frogs, eagles and budgerigars, a cheeky penis that chased women all over the place, and then stories that linked the smaller narratives into something bigger I didn’t understand.
It was this country and these stories that he would paint, and it was for this that he is most well known outside of Yuendumu.
Cookie was one of the men who painted the Honey Ant Dreaming mural at Papunya School in 1971, which is often referred to as the beginning of the Western Desert art movement. It was at this time that he worked in the kitchen at Papunya and got his nickname ‘Cookie’. Everyone I knew always called him Cookie, so it is the name I have used here.
After moving to Yuendumu in the 1970s, he was involved in the secret/sacred paintings within the Men’s Museum, joined several local committees and drove the school bus. As a strong supporter of cultural programs at the school, Cookie was one of five artists who painted Jukurrpa on the Yuendumu School doors in 1983.
He painted 17 of the 30 doors himself, and collaborated on three more with others. He spoke about his motivation (translation):
We painted these Dreamings on the school doors because the children should learn about our Law.
The children do not know them and they might become like white people, which we don’t want to happen.
We want our children to learn about and know our Law, our Dreamings.
The doors were (somewhat controversially) later acquired in 1995 as ‘art works’ and restored by the South Australian Museum. Twelve were selected to feature as part of the ‘Unhinged‘ exhibition that toured Australia for several years before ending up in Adelaide.
Cookie became a founding member of the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association (WAAA) in 1985. He served as its Chairman for many years, and was a strong advocate of the large collaborative canvases for which WAAA became known in its early years. Cookie had this to say about his work as an artist (translation):
My name is Paddy Japaljarri Stewart. We painted the Kuruwarri (Jukurrpa designs) on the Yuendumu school Doors.
It took a long time. We paint at the Warlukurlangu art centre now. We’ve been putting our Kuruwarri on canvas for a long time.
We can’t leave our Jukurrpa behind, we have to keep it alive. We only paint the Kuruwarri that belongs to our family, not someone else’s. We’ve been doing this for a long time so that our young people can learn.
The young people know their Jukurrpa. The Jukurrpa that belongs to their mother’s father, father’s father and mother’s mother.
The Yuendumu artists became known for their adherence to painting only Jukurrpa, with strong documentation accompanying each work. Their use of bold, bright colours set them apart from the Papunya artists who favoured a more ‘traditional’ ochre palette.
In 1989, Cookie was one of the Warlpiri men selected to create a ground painting for the ‘Magiciens de la Terre‘ exhibition in the Halle de la Villette at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The work received international acclaim.
Cookie went on to have his paintings included in other prestigious exhibitions, including ‘Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia‘ (New York), ‘Aratjara: Art of the First Australians‘ (Düsseldorf) and ‘Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings: a survey of central desert art 1971-1993‘.
In 2000, Cookie collaborated with close friend and fellow artist Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Basil Hall (of Northern Editions) to produce 30 small etchings based on the Yuendumu Doors.
The collection won the 18th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for works on paper in 2001. He held his first solo exhibition at the Red Dot Gallery in Singapore in 2012, which also paid homage to the Yuendumu Doors.
Despite battling various illnesses in later life that took him away from the community for extended periods of time, Cookie continued to paint and be an active member of the art centre.
At the time of his passing, he was its Treasurer and had completed 830 paintings. For 30 years, he was often the committee member that the art centre manager could depend upon:
He was the Chairman when I arrived and was very welcoming. He was the ‘go to’ person whenever I needed advice about what to do or how to approach something in the community. He was my inspiration for building a new building and later for becoming involved in getting dialysis happening in Yuendumu. I feel that we were very lucky to get him back in the community and that he was able to spend his last few years here on his country where he belonged.
– Cecilia Alfonso, Manager, WAAA
The last time I saw him, he was on his scooter heading out to West Camp at Yuendumu. We had a little yarn and I joked that he must be going out bush to muster some cattle. He laughed, gave me a wry smile and waved goodbye.
You could get your second flat tyre with Cookie and his response would be to turn to you and tell you everything is ok, we’ll get home all right, it’s just like riding a horse.
I remember thinking how great it was that we had the dialysis unit and he was able to come home and have this time with family and friends. He was making the most of it.
If you ever visited the art centre at Yuendumu, it’s likely that you met Cookie.
He was probably wearing a hat, sitting on the back verandah next to that other Japaljarri, painting on a canvas. He might have been sitting next to one of his grand children encouraging them to paint their Jukurrpa on a little board.
If you stayed long enough, you would have heard him laugh or grind his teeth as he concentrated on his work. He was one of the most gentle, inclusive, patient men I have ever met. He cared deeply about passing on his culture to the next generation, and he loved to paint.
He always had a big smile for everyone in the community. He would visit and say hello. He made a lot of friends in the art world. He was a good person always full of jokes, talking stories about travelling around Queensland when he was a stockman.
It was important to him to keep the culture alive, maintaining the culture and passing it on. ‘Never lose your culture’, that’s what he said. ‘Without culture you are nothing.’ I learnt a lot from him.
– Otto Jungarrayi Sims, Chairperson, WAAA
Cookie is survived by his daughter Queenie, grandchildren Dion and Lloyd, adopted children Lloyd, Jacob, Ruth and Evonne, and his many extended family and friends.
There’s a whole lot of us in Central Australia that are missing him.