Leah Umbagai

Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre

Leah is a Worrorra woman and was born in 1974 at Derby. She lives at Mowanjum Community which lies 10km south of Derby in the West Kimberley of Western Australia. She started painting as a young child with her grandmother Elkin Umbagai. Leah spent time living with Mildred and Donny Woolagoodja who further influenced her passion for art.

Leah treasures the time spent with her grandfather and the incredible, spiritual experiences she had while exploring with him. Her grandfather used to take her to the cave sites. ‘He taught me about the land, water, rocks, teaching me what I needed to learn about our culture. We walked seven hours a day looking at the caves. When you are there, the spirit speaks to you. It is glad you are around. Some places can be interpreted and in others I wonder what they are saying. This is why I paint.

Leah’s totem is the freshwater barramundi. She explains, ‘It is my ungud, my dreaming. In traditional storytelling, ungud is given to the father or grandfather through dreams or as a living animal to the parent. When the child dies the spirit returns to the animal. What is taken by the earth is given back. If you have a special animal you cannot eat it. It just doesn’t taste right.’

Leah passes on stories to the young mob she is growing up. ‘I tell them everyone has their own way of looking. We are all different.’

Leah was a Finalist in the 2020 Telstra NATSIAA at the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory.