Ruth Nalmakarra was born and grew up in Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island). In the late 1960’s she moved to Yurrwi (Milingimbi). Nalmakarra has been constantly engaged with weaving, painting and leading her community throughout her life. She has been weaving since she was a young girl and was taught painting by her family during the Ŋärra (cleansing) ceremony when clan designs are painted on the body. The limited palette and geometric designs of Nalmakarra’s weaving and painting are informed by her Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra clan designs.
Nalmakarra has been instrumental in the repatriation of digital images of historical artworks and daily life to Milingimbi and the development of a community collection at the Art Centre. She is passionate about Yolŋu having control of their cultural property, access to cultural materials and recognition as knowledge keepers and researchers. As a young woman Nalmakarra also contributed generously to the sharing of knowledge between generations through her work as a teacher at Milingimbi School and at Laŋarra outstation.
Nalmakarra held a position as assistant manager at Milingimbi Art and Culture from (2005 to 2009) and is currently the Chairperson of the Centre. Nalmakarra also held a position on the board of the art centre peak body, ANKA from 2007 to 2019. She has worked extensively with museums and collections and is extremely knowledgeable in identifying family and clan connections. Ruth is proficient in both governance and leadership and continues as a role model and valuable contributor to the art centre and its daily operations.
Nalmakarra’s lifelong commitment to contributing to the continuum of cultural knowledge was recognised by her brother, renowned Liyagawumirr painter Mickey Dorrng. Before passing away, Dorrng passed authority to Nalmakarra and her sisters to take over custodianship of the Liyagawumirr Djirriḏiḏi (ceremonial body paint designs).
“There is a refined elegance to these designs: at their simplest they consist of nothing more than a series of austere horizontal bands of yellow, red and white. To the Liyagauwumirr [sic], however, they contain all the mysteries of their ancestral homelands. According to Dorrng, ‘These designs are the power of the land. The sun, the water, creation, for everything.’ Rich in ‘inside’ meanings, the full ‘story’ contained within these designs was traditionally known only to initiated Liyagauwumirr [sic] men. Before his death, however, Dorrng made the seemingly unorthodox decision to pass this knowledge and authority to his sister Ruth Nalmakarra (b.1954) and her family. What followed was a flowering of tradition, as Nalmakarra and her sisters used this broadened authority to instigate a cultural revival that united their community around these ancient designs.”
– Henry Skerritt, Choosing who will keep stories strong, Artlink Magazine
2018 – Specialist Certificate in Cross Cultural Conservation, The University of Melbourne
Ongoing – Theology, Nungalinya College
2010-2011 – Art worker Extension Program, ANKA
2009 – Indigenous Leadership Program, ANKA
1988 – Teacher Training, Batchelor College