Namatjira matriarch dies after copyright battle

Namatjira family members at a press conference announcing the return of copyright of Albert Namatjira's artworks. Photo by Sia Duff.

Kumantjai L Namatjira Lankin, the matriarch of the Namatjira family, has died less than a week after her family’s protracted fight to win copyright of the works of renowned painter Albert Namatjira.

Kumantjai had been a tireless advocate for the return of her grandfather’s copyright.

She just lived long enough to finally see one of Australia’s greatest watercolourists have his profile restored at the front and centre of Australian art.

Chairperson of the newly established Namatjira Legacy Trust Sophie Marinos said past restrictions on the use of Mr Namatjira’s work meant he was nearly invisible outside some of Australia’s major galleries.

But she said Mr Namatjira’s family wanted his work to be appreciated by all Australians.

“For all these years there have been huge restrictions placed on the copyright (for) institutions like the National Gallery or Araluen Art Centre in Alice Springs or the NGV in Melbourne … all these public art institutions haven’t even been able to put images on their websites of works that are in their collections.

“We want to make sure there is a solid royalty stream that comes back to the community and the family, but we also want to make sure there is access to those works so this great Australian artist can be celebrated, understood and learnt about.”

Ms Marinos said royalties from the use of Mr Namatjira’s artwork would be used for language, art and culture programs in the late artist’s homeland, the Western Arrernte region near Alice Springs.

She said she did not know how much the royalty payments would amount to.

“I doubt it will be in the millions,” she said. “It’s like a small business really. We’re right at the beginning. We’re not in a position to comment on what licensing fees and what the royalty flow will be.

“We want it to be fair.”

The return of copyright to Mr Namatjira’s family came after years of campaigning and the intervention of millionaire Dick Smith.

Copyright had previously been held by British book publisher Legend Press, which brought the rights in the 1980s from the Public Trustee. Mr Namatjira, who was born in 1902, died in 1959.

Namatjira Project, a documentary about the Namatjira family’s fight to regain control over his art, is being screened at the Adelaide Film Festival tonight at 7.30pm local time at the GU Film House.

Mr Namatjira was a pioneer of contemporary Indigenous Australian art and is considered the most famous Indigenous Australian of his generation.

The Namatjira Legacy Trust has been established to protect the interests of his family and to benefit the Hermannsburg community of which he was a traditional custodian.

Wendy Caccetta

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