Important Australian Aboriginal Art
18 March 2020


born 1952

natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

154.0 x 52.0 cm (irregular)

$45,000 – 65,000
Sold for $51,240 (inc. BP) in Auction 60 - 18 March 2020, Melbourne

Maningrida Arts and Culture, Maningrida, Northern Territory (cat. 2760-06) (label attached verso)
Annandale Galleries, Sydney (cat. JMa 531) (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne


John Mawurndjul: Mapping Djang, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, 7 November – 9 December 2006

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Maningrida Arts and Culture, Maningrida.

Catalogue text

‘Milmilngkan is a duwa moiety place belonging to us. This is the place where I live. There is a sacred site, a Djang, near the billabong… Milmilngkan is where the Rainbow Serpent pierced the ground. There is a Rainbow Serpent there that watches over us’.1

Situated 60 kilometres south of Maningrida in central Arnhem Land, Milmilngkan is a spring not far from a billabong where John Mawurndjul has a seasonal camp. As disclosed in the accompanying certificate, Milmilngkan is a site of immense significance within the structures and dynamics of Kuninjku culture, for ‘the Rainbow serpent resides under the water’.2 A familiar subject of contemporary Kuninjku bark paintings, Ngalyod is the protector of all sacred sites and its power is present in each one. Ngalyod has both powers of creation and destruction and is most strongly associated with rain, monsoon seasons and rainbows which are a manifestation of Ngalyod's power and presence. Ngalyod is associated with the destructive power of the storms and with the plenty of the wet season, being both a destroyer and a giver of life. Ngalyod's power controls the fertility of the country and the seasons.3

Guided by his father Anchor Kulunba, elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and his uncle Peter Marralwanga, Mawurndjul received a very traditional upbringing that resulted in his extensive knowledge of ritual ceremony and strong interest in cultural heritage. Whilst still at a young age, Mawurndjul was recognised as an exceptional painter of body designs for ceremony. As the artist recalls, ‘I saw my father doing the rarrk (cross hatching) for the Mardayin ceremony and tried to do it myself with my back all doubled over, I ended up being better than any of them at it. They gave me a job in the Mardayin ceremony to paint some rarrk’.4

Originally painting figures and creatures in Kuningku mythology, he has over the years developed a more metaphysical representation of specific sites, events and landscape. Constantly striving for new ways to interpret his country, Mawurndjul’s innovative use of rarrk to map important locations is evident in the fine lineal clan designs spread across the surface of his paintings, creating shifting patterns of grids that are rendered in fine interlocking lines. Utilising his explorations of rarrk designs, Mawurndjul set on a path of creating site specific Mardayin works depicting important ceremonial sites. Showing all his skill as a painter, places such as Dilebang, Murmeka, Kakodbebuldi, Kudjarnngal and his home of Mlilmilngkan, are all represented in a superb display of fine rarrk. As explained by the artist, ‘the blocks of rarrk are the body of the mardayin ceremony. Mardayin phenomena are located in water, underneath bodies of water… as at Kakodbebuldi, Mlilmilngka and Murmeka. It’s always in the water, lying under the water’.5

Mawurndjul’s paintings have pioneered a new interpretation of clan sites and djang that inspired the next generation of bark painters. Indeed, his influence can be seen in the work of his younger brother James Iyuna, his wife Kay Lindjuwanga and other younger artists such as Ivan Namirrikki, Samuel Namundja, Owen Yalandra and his daughter Anna Wurrkidj.

1. The artist quoted in I am the Old and the New, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2018, p. 181
2. Taken from the accompanying certificate of authenticity from Maningrida Arts and Culture.
3. ibid.
4. rarrk: John Mawurndjul, Journey Through Time in Northern Australia, Museum Tinguely, Basel, 2005, p. 43
5. Perkins H., ‘Mardayin Maestro’ in John Mawurndjul, I am the Old and the New, Museum of
Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2018, p. 32