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Laurel Nannup was born in 1943 at the Carrolup Native Settlement approximately twenty-four kilometres from Katanning, Western Australia. She was the eldest of seventeen children and among her siblings were two sets of twins. When she was an infant, her parents left the settlement to live at Pinjarra Reserve, Pinjarra. At the age of eight she and her six-year-old sister were taken from the reserve to live at Wandering Mission, which was run by an order of German catholic nuns. It was here that she was schooled and where she learned to live without her parents, although they were allowed an occasional visit and the Nannup girls were allowed to holiday with them. Nannup remembers being taught how to cook, sew, knit, launder and garden by the nuns.

At fourteen, all the children on the mission were removed from school and sent to work in and around the mission. Nannup worked in the kitchen and laundry and also cared for the younger children. She also worked on the mission farm milking cows, feeding pigs, collecting cow manure for the garden and stooking hay bundles.

When children reached the age of sixteen they had to leave the mission and when Nannup reached this age she went to live with a family in Kalgarin, Western Australia, to work as their 'domestic’. The family had two small girls and in the two years that Nannup stayed with them two more babies were born. At eighteen Nannup left Kalgarin to work in Rossmoyne in Perth. It was here in 1975 that she gave birth to her son, Brett, and she settled down to raise him and his two cousins, John and Charles, who Nannup came to foster after the death of her sister (their mother) from a car accident in 1976.

In the late 1990s when the three boys had left home, Nannup returned to school, enrolling in mathematics at Curtin University in Perth. One day on campus she picked up a brochure with information on courses for Aboriginal people to undertake a visual arts degree. Nannup dropped maths and enrolled in the visual arts course. Here she was introduced to many different media but found that printmaking suited her best. It was here at Curtin University, surrounded by other Aboriginal artists, that Nannup began to remember the stories of her childhood, which she began to print from etchings and woodcuts. Some of the stories are memories of happy events; in The Lolly Tree Nannup depicts the day her uncle, Lionel Hart, had decorated a tree with colourfully wrapped lollies and taken Nannup and her siblings and cousins for a ride in the horse and cart past the 'lolly tree’ so he could delight in the children’s reaction. Other stories are not so happy. The story of the day Nannup and her sister were taken is depicted in the woodcut print Leaving Home, in which two little girls stand hand in hand with their backs to the viewer, looking at the big black car that was to take them from their parents home on Pinjarra Reserve to Wandering Mission. Nannup graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2000 and immediately undertook an honours year in 2001.

In 2006 Nannup wrote and illustrated the book A Story To Tell, published by the University of Western Australia Press. This book tells the stories of Nannup’s childhood and some of the stories of the lives of her parents. These stories are accompanied by Nannup’s drawings, etchings, woodblock prints and family photographs. These images and their stories, as Nannup relates in a 2006 interview with Daniel Browning on Radio National’s AWAYE! program, are for her “children and grandchildren to know what life was like for me and my parents”.

In 2006, seven of Nannup’s prints were acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, six by the Art Gallery of Western Australia and two by the Berndt Museum of Anthropology in Perth. That same year Nannup participated in a print workshop along with nine other Indigenous printmakers at the Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne, Victoria. The aim of this workshop was to produce a print that would commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Dutch ship Duyfken on Australian shores. A limited edition print portfolio was produced and one was presented to the Netherlands’ Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima in a ceremony at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in November 2006. The Prince and Princess immediately donated the portfolio to the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht, Netherlands. The Queensland Art Gallery also acquired one of these portfolios for their collection. The other artists in this project were Janice Murray and Pedro Wonaeamirri from Melville Island, Dhuwarrwarr Marika and Dulamari (Djalinda Yunupingu) from northeast Arnhem Land, Karen Casey from Hobart, Allan Mansell from Bruny Island, Christopher Pease from Perth, and Leonie Pootchemunka and Garry Namponon from Aurukun.

In 2008, with the help of 'Art On The Move’ (a Western Australian based organisation that provides funding support and management expertise for the development of touring exhibitions of contemporary art across the state of Western Australia, inter-state and internationally), Nannup was able to stage a touring exhibition of her prints, photos and drawings also titled 'A Story To Tell’, which toured to regional art galleries in Western Australia, including Bunbury where her nephew Troy Bennell works at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery. This exhibition also toured to South Australia in 2009 and was shown at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.

Nannup lives and works in Perth, Western Australia.

Allas, Tess Note:
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