Kunwinjku people

Australia 1897 – 1985

Nawarran, rock python (c.1963) Place made: Minjilang (Croker Island), Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Primary Insc: KK 25
Dimensions: 77.5 h x 67.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Founding Donors Fund 1984.
Accession No: NGA 85.1253
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd
  • Midjaw-Midjaw’s country comprising the Coburg Peninsula near Nimbuwa Rock abounds with rock art. He is first known as an artist who assisted the anthropologist Ronald Berndt’s research about art and ceremony at Oenpelli (Gunbalanya) in 1949 to 1950. Later Midjaw-Midjaw’s paintings became famous through Karel Kupka, who worked on Croker Island in 1963. Nawarran, rock python c 1963 formed part of Kupka’s personal collection.

    Midjaw-Midjaw went on to become one of the most prolific artists as the market for bark painting rapidly developed in the 1970s and early 1980s. The artist was a senior ceremonial leader and could paint the subjects of important ceremonies such as Wubarr, Mardayin and Kunabibi, as well as subjects that refer to the more esoteric realms of sorcery and love magic. In the early works collected by Kupka, Midjaw-Midjaw’s paintings have a rough texture akin to rock painting techniques. In this painting, Nawarran the rock python is infilled with daubs of ochre and charcoal, which is quite unlike the very neat crosshatching of some of Midjaw-Midjaw’s later work. The painting possesses a strong graphic quality that relies less on neatness and more on contrasts in colour between infilled sections. The spiral form of the snake is a classic western Arnhem Land image, suggesting the moment of creation as the Rainbow Serpent creates a waterhole that becomes a sacred place. Similar images often show the snake coiled around its prey. Kunwinjku often say that this snake lies coiled inside the water at sacred places they call ‘djang’.

    Luke Taylor

    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