Peter MARRALWANGA, Ngal-Kunburriyaymi Enlarge 1 /1

Peter MARRALWANGA

Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

Australia 1916 – 1987

Ngal-Kunburriyaymi [Ngalkunburruyayni daughter of Yingarna Ngalkunburriyaymi, daughter of Yinarnga] 1982 Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 121.5 h x 65.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.3195
Image rights: © estate of Peter Marralwanga, courtesy Maningrida Arts & Culture

Peter Marralwanga, also known as Djakku,[1] was a contemporary of the renowned western Arnhem Land ceremonial elder and artist Yirawala, who taught him to translate his ceremonial knowledge into paintings on bark. Marralwanga commenced painting in the early 1970s, but due to his senior status within the ritual realm, he was able to portray his ancestors in ways that challenged previous depictions of ancestral figures. Marralwanga painted these spiritual figures in complex and dynamic positions, often crammed into the framework of the bark. The effect is that the figures’ spiritual energy appears to be compressed in physical form—crouched, waiting to be unleased.

Acknowledged as one of the most significant Kuninjku artists, Marralwanga went on to influence the work of the current generation of Kuninjku artists, particularly his nephew John Mawurndjul and his son Ivan Namirrki (born 1961), whom he taught to paint the distinctive rarrk or crosshatching of western Arnhem Land.

This bark painting depicts Ngal-Kunburriyaymi, the daughter of the original ancestral creator being, Yingarna, and also the sister of Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent. Ngal-Kunburriyaymi is an alternative term for yawkyawk. Unlike images of yawkyawk with fish tails, in this painting the mermaid-like figure is recognisable by the water weed that forms her hair. This spirit being, or Daluk (meaning any woman), comes from Gudjaldodo, a secret or sacred location on the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment near the upper reaches of the Liverpool River.

Franchesca Cubillo

[1] ‘Djakku’ means left-handed.


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

Peter Marralwanga was a contemporary of the renowned Western Arnhem Land ceremonial elder and artist Yirawala, from whom he was taught to translate his ceremonial knowledge into art. He commenced painting in the early 1970s, relatively late in life, in his mid 50s. Acknowledged as one of the most significant Kuninjku artists, his influence is most evident in the work of the current generation of Kuninjku artists, particularly his nephew John Mawurndjul, whom he taught to paint the distinctive rarrk, or cross-hatching of Western Arnhem Land.

Marralwanga stated that prior to Yirawala and his use of rarrk in painting, rarrk was only used in mortuary painting on deceased bodies by people at Milingimbi and Galiwinku (Elcho Island). Rarrk is painted to ensure that traditional foods grow each season.

This bark painting depicts Ngal-Kunburriyaymi, the daughter of the original Ancestral Creator being, Yingarna, and also the sister of Ngalyod, the rainbow serpent. This spirit being, or Darhlu/Daluk (meaning any woman) comes from Gudealuroro/Gudjaldodo, a secret or sacred location on the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment near the upper reaches of the Liverpool river.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Peter Marralwanga was a contemporary of the renowned Western Arnhem Land elder and artist Yirawala, from whom he learnt to translate his ceremonial knowledge into art. He began painting relatively late in life, in the early 1970s when he was in his mid-50s. Acknowledged as one of the most significant Kuninjku artists, Marralwanga’s influence is evident in the work of the current generation of Kuninjku artists, particularly his nephew John Mawurndjul, whom he taught to paint the distinctive rarrk (crosshatching) of Western Arnhem Land.

Due to his senior ritual status, Marralwanga was able to portray his ancestors in ways that challenged previous depictions of ancestral figures. He painted them in complex and dynamic positions, often crammed into the framework of the bark. The effect is that the figure’s spiritual energy appears compressed in physical form—crouched, waiting to be unleashed.

This bark painting depicts Ngal-Kunburriyaymi, the daughter of the original ancestral creator being, Yingarna, and the sister of Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent. This spirit being, or Daluk (meaning any woman), comes from Gudjaldod, a secret and sacred location on the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment near the upper reaches of the Liverpool River.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014