Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
4 April 2012


(1927 - 2002)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

184.5 x 224.0 cm

signed lower right: GINGER RILEY
inscribed verso: artist's name and Alcaston Gallery cat. AK2650

$80,000 - 100,000
Sold for $96,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 24 - 4 April 2012, Melbourne

Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, France

Catalogue text

Ginger Riley Munduwalawala was born on the coastal salt-water country of the Mara people in south east Arnhem Land and was the custodian of his mother's country, which extends from the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria along the Limmen Bight River to the Four Archers 'My mother country is in my mind.'1 This painting, The Wet - My Mother's Country, 1994, a large major canvas by Munduwalawala, is centred on this expansive country, incorporating elements of the landscape with animal life, together with images of ancient mythological creation stories.

According to Munduwalawala's story, the snake Garimala, shown in the centre of this painting as a pair of snakes, created the Four Archers, an area regarded as '...the centre of the earth, where all things start and finish.'2 Riley noted that Garimala travelled from far away and lives in the waterhole or billabong that he created near the Four Archers. The travelling Garimala is often depicted as a pair of snakes.3 Perched above is Ngak Ngak, the white-breasted sea eagle who is the protector and guardian spirit of this country. This story is told during the rainy days of the Wet Season with the sun inside a cloud spreading a red glow across the sky. Plains kangaroo are visible in the painting, however they are clearly of secondary importance to both the ancestral beings Garimala and Ngak Ngak, and the land itself.

Whilst still in his adolescence, Munduwalawala met the watercolourist Albert Namatjira, whose style was to have an ongoing impact upon his practice. The meeting with Namatjira was to resonate considerably, forging 'Riley's idea that the colours of the land as seen in his imagination could be captured in art with munanga (white fella) paints.'4 Nearly two decades after his first attempt, a second opportunity arose when the Northern Territory Open College of TAFE established a printmaking workshop in the Ngukurr Aboriginal Community, formerly known as the Roper River Mission. Here Munduwalawala was able to experiment once again with the munanga colours of red, blue and yellow, mixing them to create green, purple and pink.

In 1992 Munduwalawala received the Alice Springs Art Prize, that same year undertaking a commission for the Australian Embassy in Beijing. The following year he won the first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Commission Art Award, and in 1996 was awarded the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council Fellowship for 1997 and 1998 in recognition of his outstanding achievements.

1. Ryan, J., Ginger Riley, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1997, p. 15
2. ibid, p. 32
3. ibid, p. 30
4. ibid, p. 29