Nici Cumpston was standing with John Mawurndjul on his country in Western Arnhem Land, near where his ancestors' bones were buried.
As co-curator of Mawurndjul's exhibition, I am the old and the new, Ms Cumpston had received permission to visit the area for research.
"We walked up to this rocky crop and there was a single standing stone," she said.
"He touched the rock and said 'Bulwana; my aunty', her remains were within the undercroft area and she was physically in the country.
"His painting about her is sharing the site where the bones of ancestors remain, so the spirit is very strong.
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"Watching him work, it's almost a trance-like state he goes into and you can feel the energy is coming from deep within him."
That visit and four years of collaboration with Mawurndjul culminated in the touring exhibition presented in Kuninjku and English, currently on show at MAMA.
After its opening on Friday, Ms Cumpston discussed the art spanning 40 years at a curator's event.
"Balang (Mawurndjul) is a master of rarrk, which is fine cross-hatching applied using a particular sedge," she said.
"When walking through country, Balang pulls a sedge from the ground and then splits it into hair-like pieces.
"He paints with natural ochres sourced from sacred sites."
It was a story Mawurndjul told about the significance of a mineral called huntite, used for the most recent work in his exhibition, that made an impression on Ms Cumpston.
"It's deep in the ground … it's the faeces of the rainbow serpent," she said.
"The local council, without seeking permission of the traditional owners, went out and excavated for rocks to use for roads.
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"There was mayhem when the owners learned this had happened, as this seamline in the ground was very sacred and not to be disrupted.
"It helped me to realise the importance of every inch of country throughout all of Australia … pay respect to the fact it has been cared for and continues to be cared for."
Mawurndjul has created more than 1000 pieces and the team behind the exhibition, from the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and Maningrida Arts and Culture, found images and locations of 700.
A book has been created featuring the exhibition and the stories behind them.
Ms Cumpston said one was about a male-only ceremony which she "knows nothing about" despite working so closely with the renowned artist.
"Within Aboriginal art there are things we can understand and there are others that aren’t for us to know about," she said.
"For me one of the great learnings working with Aboriginal artists is accepting the information being shared with me and being able to share that with other people."
I am the old and the new runs until Sunday, May 26.