Maringka Baker is a senior Pitjantjatjara artist who lives in the small community of Kanpi, in the north-west corner of South Australia. She was born in the bush around 1952 at an important ceremonial site, Kaliumpil. After losing both parents as a child, she was raised by her extended family. During adolescence and adulthood Baker continued to observe and participate in traditional cultural practices.
The 1950s and 1960s was a period of displacement for many Indigenous people over a broad area of the north-western desert region of South Australia. Rocket and atomic tests were carried out at Woomera, Emu Plains and Maralinga, and many Indigenous desert families were relocated. Family groups established new camps close to water, and later some of these camps became outstations, which now function as small communities.
Maringka Baker was sent to primary school at Warburton, across the border into Western Australia, from where she ran away to join relatives who had moved to Ernabella in the north
of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. She later shifted to Fregon, where she completed her education and began employment as a teacher. She married Douglas Baker and had a daughter, Claire. The Baker family name extends throughout the Ngaanyatjara and Pitjantjatjara lands.
Due to the remoteness of these small communities, many of the senior members have continued to observe traditional practices and ceremonial rituals, which enrich and reinforce the importance of country and its relevance to individual Tjukurrpa. Maringka Baker is custodian of many important stories, including Anmangunga, her mother’s country (a camping site near Watarru, where she played as a small child); Kaliumpil (the place of her birth); Kuru Ala (a sacred place for the Seven Sisters Creation Story); and Kungkarrakalpa (the Seven Sisters Creation Story).
Baker began painting for the arts centre Ninuku Artists in 2004, and now paints for Tjungu Palya, an art centre which grew out of Ninuku and represents the communities of Nyapari, Kanpi and Watarru, and the small homeland of Angatja. Tjungu Palya is an Aboriginal community-based collective consisting of a small group of senior men and women, as well as a number of younger artists. Loosely translated, Tjungu Palya means ‘being together is good’.
Maringka Baker’s paintings are rich in colour and cultural significance, and grounded in country and ceremony. As she has grown in confidence, so has the work, which is now large in scale, blending landscape with a fusion of passion, individual expression and cultural integrity. Where some see the desert as barren, Baker paints it green: testament to her perspective of seeing life and soul beyond the merely obvious.