Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
6 October 2010

Ginger Riley Munduwalawala

(1927 - 2002)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

149.0 x 144.0 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name, date, Alcaston House Gallery cat. AK2063


Painted at Araluen, Alice Springs, in 1993 during an artists in residence program Alcaston House Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Ginger Riley Munduwalawala was born on the coastal salt–water country of the Mara people in south east Arnhem Land. Ngukurr, the Aboriginal community where Riley was raised and spent the majority of his life, grew out of the Roper River Mission which was established in 1908. In 1968 control over the settlement was assumed by an Aboriginal council of elders and landowners, resulting in its emergence as a community of particular vibrancy. Ginger Riley, along with contemporaries Djambu Barra Barra and Willie Gudabi, was a founding member of the painting movement and in 1988 after a successful exhibition at a Melbourne gallery; they incorporated under the Wandarang name Ngundungunya Association of Artists. Unfortunately funding was difficult to secure and it wasn't until after 2000 that an art centre was permanently established in the region.

Ginger Riley's distinct landscapes are now viewed as being informed by a particular vision. As observed by Senior Curator Judith Ryan, ‘Riley forged his own way of encapsulating and celebrating the grand sweep and minute details of a particular tract of land in the south–east Arnhem Land, over which he was granted Native Title in 2000 through his role as djungkayi (caretaker). His works followed guditja (a continuous song line), seen as a series of pictures in his mind. His landscape manner, studded with icons of identity and place, was instantly recognisable. An image–maker with a rare sense of space and a concern for the whole composition, rather than a mark–maker of abstract sensibility, Riley enjoyed working with paint, mixing, layering and experimenting with colours and different visual effects and thereby building up country. His superlative colour sense set him apart from other contemporary Indigenous artists.'1

In this particular painting Riley has rendered the landscape populated by its ancestral beings; the white breasted sea eagle and guardian figure, Ngak Ngak. Shadowed by the snake Garimala, Ngak Ngak is perched at the top of the coast line casting sight over the Limmen Bight River. Winding towards the sea, the river separates the rugged terrain and rock formations known as the Four Archers. The mythological creator of the Four Archers, Garimala is further illustrated in the foreground as a pair of snakes.

1. Ryan, J., ‘”Different from other mob”: Art from Ngukurr and Beyond', in Perkins, H., One Sun, One Moon, Aboriginal Art in Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007. p. 142