Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
24 March 2010

Mawalan Marika

(c.1908 - 1967)

natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

159.0 x 59.0 cm

$12,000 - 15,000

Dorothy Bennett, Darwin (label attached verso)
Private collection, Canada
Private collection, Perth
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Mawalan Marika was a senior member of the Rirratjingu clan of north east Arnhem Land, custodian of the stories and ceremonies associated with the Djang'kawu ancestors, and a highly regarded and accomplished painter.

When the National Gallery of Australia opened its 1997 exhibition, The Painters of the Wagilag Sisters Story 1937–1997, the creation stories of central and east Arnhem Land, and in particular the elegant work of Mawalan Marika, were revealed to a broader audience in considerable depth for the first time.

The Wagilag Sisters story, also known as Wagilak or Wawilak, has wide significance for people of the Dhuwa moiety of central and eastern Arnhem Land. This large scale bark depicts the Wagilag Sisters on either side of a hollow log with two goannas and two birds – these were among the animals the Djang'kawu saw when they first arrived at Yalangbara. In the top section are four more goannas gathered around a waterhole, a classic Rirratjingu motif often used by the artist.

This work has an old typed mission label attached verso which identifies the artist and subject. It states: 'In one of the sacred corroborees of the Murngin people, goanna dance and seagull dance are performed by men with bodies painted to resemble these. In the centre there is a long rectangle with goannas painted on it. This is carried to represent Yurlungurr, the giant python who, in mythological times, swallowed the Wawilak Sisters. These sisters had lit a fire beside Yurlungurr's sacred well and thrown on it various animals and birds they had killed. Everything came to life and ran into the sacred well (circle). When one of the sisters accidentally polluted the well, Yurlungurr rose up in anger and swallowed the sisters. In a dream the same night they appeared to their kinsmen and taught them all the dances they were to perform ever afterwards in corroborees.'