Unknown artist
Kuninjku (eastern Kunwinjku) people
'Hunter and emu' pre 1914
Purchased 2005

Hunter and emu 1950s is a classic example of an early western Arnhem Land bark painting from Gunbalanya (Oenpelli). A male hunter holds a raised spear-thrower in one hand and grass stalks to camouflage himself in the other. A stone-tipped spear extends from the end of the spear-thrower into the emu's back. A dilly bag hangs from his shoulder and four types of spears are painted below. The emu is twisted to fit into the rectangular space of the bark sheet, with legs bent at the knees and facing opposite directions, suggesting the emu is sitting or has just fallen to the ground. Internal features, such as organs and backbone, are depicted and both the hunter and the emu are infilled with hatching, solid colour and some dots. The emu has eyes attached to optic nerves, indications of feathers and very large, exaggerated middle toes.

An interesting aspect of this work is its resemblance to a rock painting in nearby Kakadu National Park. At that site a hunter in the old dynamic figure style, at least 10 000 years of age, hides himself by similarly holding grass. A spear protrudes from an emu's breast and a trajectory line leads back to the hunter's raised arm. The rock painting also has hatched infill and depicts some of the emu's internal features, feathers and very large middle toes. Whether the bark artist was inspired by the ancient rock painting is an interesting question, but certainly Hunter and emu resembles another painting, a 1973 bark in the Australian Museum by the artist Wamud Namok [1] and may be one of his early works.

Paul Taçon

[1] In accordance with tradition the names of the recently deceased are not uttered, and this artist is currently referred to by this alternative name. For the sake of clarity, the artist is Bardayal Nadjamerrek.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

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