The Australia Council wishes to acknowledge the passing of Dr B Marika AO and pay tribute to her contribution to First Nations arts and culture.
The Rirratjingu woman from Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land was a visual artist, curator, actress, educator, environmentalist/conservationist and cultural advocate.
She was the daughter of the late ceremonial leader, statesman, political activist and artist Mawalan 1 Marika (c. 1908–1967) and the younger sister of Wandjuk Djuwakan Marika OBE (1929–1987), who was a founding member of the Australia Council for the Arts and the first Chair of the Aboriginal Arts Board in 1973.
Dr Marika and her sisters were amongst the first women to be taught by their father Mawalan to paint the Rirratjingu ancestral creation stories, a tradition that was previously reserved for men.
Dr Marika served on a number of boards including the Aboriginal Visual Arts Committee of the Australia Council, the National Gallery of Australia, Indigenous Art Code, the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Dr Marika was also a committed cultural advocate. In 1994, she was one of seven artists who won a legal battle against a company that illegally reproduced their work. In 2001 she received the Australia Council’s prestigious Red Ochre Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Between 2016 – 2017 Dr Marika was instrumental in lobbying the Australian Government to address the Fake Art Harms Culture campaign, initiated by the Indigenous Commercial Code and Arts Law Australia.
Dr Marika was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Flinders University in 2018, and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 2019 Australia Day Honours for “distinguished service to the visual arts, particularly to Indigenous printmaking and bark painting, and through cultural advisory roles”.
In 2003, Dr Marika advocated to secure the heritage listing of Yalangbara, a significant sacred site in north-east Arnhem Land, and in 2009 co-curated the Yalangbara: Art of the Djang’kawu exhibition and was co-producer in the accompanying publication.
Australia Council Arts Executive Director First Nations Arts and Culture Franchesca Cubillo said:
“Dr Marika will be remembered not only as a respected artist, but also as a passionate cultural and community leader who helped to build important awareness around protection of First Nations cultural and intellectual property rights, the recognition and support for First Nations land management and Caring for Country principles and the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites. We extend our deepest sympathies to Dr Marika’s family, the northeast Arnhem Land community and her many friends and colleagues spread across Australia.”