Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

Australia 1916 – 1987

Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, at Manabinbala 1980-81 Description: from Peter Marralwanga collection of 15 bark paintings No.13/15
Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 154.0 h x 93.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1990
Accession No: NGA 90.132.13
Image rights: © estate of Peter Marralwanga, courtesy Maningrida Arts & Culture
  • Among the Kuninjku people of western Arnhem Land, Ngalyod is one of the most powerful ancestral beings and is responsible for creating particular sites. Here, the Snake is shown at Manabinbala on the Liverpool River, where giant tides form dangerous whirlpools. Marralwanga suggests this in the painting through the swirl of the figure of the Snake, which is enhanced by the sections of rarrk or crosshatched patterns, set at different angles, which make up its body. In addition, the rarrk emulates the glistening surface of the Snake’s skin while simultaneously suggesting the presence of ancestral power within the figure. Marralwanga was a student of the great bark painter of western Arnhem Land, Yirawala, who introduced him to the potential of varying patterns of rarrk to produce spectacular visual effects.

    In this painting, Marralwanga has integrated these aesthetic considerations into the stylistic conventions of West Arnhem Land painting. The vertebrae of the Snake are represented by the band of black and yellow bars in the x-ray style of painting. The figure of Ngalyod, with its amalgam of features, is typical of the style of painting in the region. Ngalyod has the head of a crocodile with its rows of sharp teeth, and wears a feather tassel on its head as people do in ceremony. The combination of different ideas characterises Ngalyod’s attributes: the strength of the crocodile, the fertility of the serpent and his place in the ancestral realm as expressed in ceremony.

    Wally Caruana

    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