For the people of Derby, WA, the Norval Gallery is much more than an art space.

Story + Photos Ricky French

There’s a face silhouetted on the saltmarsh, backlit by the glowing orange embers of a Kimberley sunset. The evening sky in Derby, 200km north-east of Broome, could sustain a crowd any night of the week, without need of embellishment, but a striking new sculpture has people transfixed. 

The face might be made from metal, but the emotion it conveys is instantly human. Its outline traces the face of a young Aboriginal man, not happy, not sad, but perhaps worried, maybe thinking of the future and what it might hold. Around 50 travellers and locals are standing a respectful distance from the sculpture, allowing space for the colours of the sunset to create the positive and negative spaces, and infuse the sky canvas. The name of this artwork is Contemplation and its artist is Mark Norval. 

Contemplation is the first sculpture of a new art installation project in Derby called Sculptures in the Marsh. Mark was the obvious candidate to contribute the first piece. Along with his wife Mary Norval, he runs Derby’s Norval Gallery. The gallery holds more than 400 Indigenous paintings, drawings and carvings, all produced by artists living in this remote north-west corner of the country. 

What started as a casual space for Mark to showcase his own work has morphed into something far bigger and more important than he could ever have imagined. For the people of Derby, this is more than just a gallery though – it’s a lifeline. Like Mark’s haunting sculpture on the saltmarsh, the gallery has refocused the town’s eyes on the future, and created a glowing light that doesn’t fade, but breaks like a new day. 

“We’re almost at the point where we’re turning people away now,” Mark says as he diligently packs another painting into bubble wrap to be sent across the country. “We have to close the doors some days, just so we can keep up with the packaging and posting.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #127

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2019