Peter Marralwanga
Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people
'Ngal-Kunburriyaymi' 1982
Purchased 1983
© Estate of Peter Marralwanga courtesy of Maningrida Arts and Culture

Peter Marralwanga, also known as Djakku, [1] was a contemporary of the renowned western Arnhem Land ceremonial elder and artist Yirawala, who taught him to translate his ceremonial knowledge into paintings on bark. Marralwanga commenced painting in the early 1970s, but due to his senior status within the ritual realm, he was able to portray his ancestors in ways that challenged previous depictions of ancestral figures. Marralwanga painted these spiritual figures in complex and dynamic positions, often crammed into the framework of the bark. The effect is that the figures' spiritual energy appears to be compressed in physical form—crouched, waiting to be unleased.
Acknowledged as one of the most significant Kuninjku artists, Marralwanga went on to influence the work of the current generation of Kuninjku artists, particularly his nephew John Mawurndjul and his son Ivan Namirrki (born 1961), whom he taught to paint the distinctive rarrk or crosshatching of western Arnhem Land.
This bark painting depicts Ngal-Kunburriyaymi, the daughter of the original ancestral creator being, Yingarna, and also the sister of Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent. Ngal-Kunburriyaymi is an alternative term for yawkyawk. Unlike images of yawkyawk with fish tails, in this painting the mermaid-like figure is recognisable by the water weed that forms her hair. This spirit being, or Daluk (meaning any woman), comes from Gudjaldodo, a secret or sacred location on the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment near the upper reaches of the Liverpool River.
Franchesca Cubillo

[1] 'Djakku' means left-handed.

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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Indigenous Art

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The art of contemporary Indigenous Australians takes many forms. Despite significant change and diversity, the art retains an underlying unity of inspiration—the land and the peoples' relationships with it. It is simultaneously connected to the past and…


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The art of contemporary Indigenous Australians takes many forms. Despite significant change and diversity, the art retains an underlying unity of inspiration—the land and the peoples' relationships with it. It is simultaneously connected to the past and engaged with the present, engaging with the world through actions which are lively, positive, political, social and creative.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection at the National Gallery of Australia comprises over 7500 works and is the largest in the world. These new gallery spaces allow much more of the collection to be seen with each one specifically designed for a different geographic region or aspect of Indigenous art and, where possible, paintings and sculptures are illuminated overhead by natural daylight, akin to the light in which the works were created.

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