“It is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know that our dear friend, Lenie Namatjira, passed away late on Thursday night,” says Sophia Marinos, producer of Namatjira Project. “A strong leader for her family and for her community, she invited us in, shared with us her family’s story, and in her gentle and stoic way, she championed the cause for the copyright return and for the Namatjira Legacy Trust.”
The late and much loved Lenie Namatjira was the granddaughter of Albert Namatjira, unquestionably Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artist. Though nothing short of a national treasure, Namatjira’s paintings have long been caught in a copyright bind that has prevented Namatjira’s relatives – led by Lenie – from seeing any of their considerable profits. A week ago, however, that copyright was finally returned to the Namatjira family in a landmark court decision. The Namatjira Project – which includes exhibitions, workshops, a stage play, and a public campaign – was set up in an effort to raise funds to buy back the copyright, and that ultimately successful campaign is the focus of Sophie Marinos’ sprawling documentary, Namatjira Project.
This extraordinary victory, however, is now tinged with sadness with the passing of Lenie Namatjira. “Forever striving for a better future for her children, grandchildren and future generations of her broader community, she left us knowing that her work has been worth it and that she has left her community in a stronger place,” says Marinos in an official statement. “Lenie and I spoke last week. She was sick and in hospital, and she was also mourning the death of one of her sons just a week earlier. Despite all that, she was so happy to hear about the copyright victory. ‘That’s what we wanted! God bless you,’ she jumped down the phone. Life’s contradictions are ever-present. And while we mourn the loss of this great matriarch, artist, champion, and friend, we know that she has enriched all our lives.”