Susannah Nakamarra Nelson found her love of painting as a child.
Born under a tall gumtree tree next to a stream near Banka Banka Station, 100 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, Susannah spent her early years on Warlmanpa country and Banka Banka Station, learning Warlmanpa language from her mother and Warlpiri from her grandfather.
When she reached school age her mother took her 600 kilometres down the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs to attend kindergarten at The Bungalow, a small mission school on the outskirts of town. It was here that Susannah first began painting. Her teacher, Pastor Long, gave the children posters depicting Christian scenes in basic outline. The illustrations were coloured by the children who thus learnt the story of the Bible pictorially. Here began Susannah’s fascination with God’s story, and the stylistic influence that would reappear in her paintings decades later.
Susannah’s paintings are influenced by the combination of her religious upbringing and her connection to culture. Using imagery of from both Aboriginal and Christian traditions, Susannah creates flat narrative works in bold blocks of colour. Throughout her career Susannah has constantly returned to the theme of ceremony; depictions of music, gathering and celebration appear frequently in her work. Drawn from both her own experiences and biblical stories, Susannah’s work is filled with joy, her subjects dance, sing and worship, they celebrate the endurance of faith and tradition and bask in the warmth of company.
Susannah’s distinctive style has had a significant influence on the Tartukula Artists of Tennant Creek, the collective which she helped to found and with whom she continues to paint. The Tartukula artists share a visual language that holds strong parallels with a naïve style through its playful approach to perspective and bold use of colour.
Along with painting at the Barkly Arts Studio Gallery, Susannah attends the Australian Indigenous Ministries church in Tennant Creek several days a week for services and prayer meetings, and her art plays an important role in her spirituality. On Wednesday evenings, Susannah takes religious paintings to church for sharing with the congregation. The paintings are prayed over, and sung out to the congregation, sometimes with great theatrics.