Janet Long Nakamarra was born in 1960 at Anninie on her traditional homelands of Warntapari, near Willowra Community in Central Australia. She grew up living a traditional lifestyle with her family. She was introduced to art depiction through observing her aunt’s May and Molly Napurrula and learnt how to paint traditional body paint design for her Warntapari Dreamings. Janet is the daughter of fellow artist, Nora Long Nakamarra, sister to Doreen Dickson Nakamarra and half sister to Malcolm Maloney Jagamarra.
After leaving school she began assisting the elders in the community in producing books in Warlpiri language whilst also studying to be a teacher. These books “Warlpiri Women’s Voices” were translated into both English and Warlpiri. Through her hard work and determination she gained the status of linguist with her people and began to teach as a literacy worker at the Willowra School.
She first began to paint in 1989 on small boards when the community store began to stock art supplies for the artists residing there. It was her half-brother, Malcolm who appreciated her interest in painting and taught her how to use acrylic paints on canvas. When author, Vivien Johnson, began to collect information for her book “Aboriginal Artists of the Western Desert: A Biographical Dictionary” in the early 1990’s, Janet was approach to assist in the translation and gathering of artist information for the Willowra artists.
In 2003, after a period of apprenticeship in Women’s Law, she was given permission by the Warlpiri Elders to paint stories about Ngapa (Water Dreaming). In these paintings, she depicts the underground water flow at Warntapari. It is a place where ceremonies are performed. In her paintings she uses traditional iconography to represent soakages in the land. Her paintings are detailed with intricate dotting which flows across the canvas. She uses a topographical view of the land to connect the water soakages and the travelling that her ancestors had to make to ensure their survival and access to water.
Other subjects of Janet’s artworks include Ngapa, Witchetty Grub, Snake, Frog, Women’s Ceremony, Seed Dreamings and Yawulyu or body paint designs. During ceremonies, Warlpiri women pay homage to the ancestors by painting their upper bodies, arms and breasts with markings in ochre paste. The markings themselves symbolise the actions of the ancestors.
Janet has a deep knowledge and understanding of language, and she uses this to her advantage through her paintings. Like no other artist, she can translate her Dreaming stories onto canvas without losing any of the vital and sacred cultural knowledge. She can tell stories of the mythology of Warlpiri people in a way that anyone is able to understand and learn. Janet sees this as a way of teaching people about her culture.