Kuninjku people

Australia 1924 /1928 – 2009

Ubarr I 2002 Place made: Kabulwarnamyo, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments on paper

Dimensions: 90.0 h x 150.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2003
Accession No: NGA 2003.368
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd
  • As a young man Wamud Namok travelled extensively throughout the west Arnhem Land and Katherine regions and over time he developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the ancestral stories, sites and ceremonies performed in this area. Particularly in the later stages of his life, he dedicated himself to passing on his knowledge to both Bininj (Aboriginal) and Balanda (westerners) alike, and one of the most immediate ways he achieved this was through his art. Some of the most notable ceremonial works he painted during this time relate to the Ubarr (Wubarr) ceremony, which was once an important revelatory initiation ritual in western Arnhem Land associated with the regenerative powers of the Rainbow Serpent. The last ritual was performed in 1975 due to the growing popularity of other ceremonies,[1] the Kunabibi and Yabbadurruwa. Even so, Wamud was still recognised as one of the main custodians of the Ubarr along with its manager Jimmy Galareya Namarnyilk (born c 1938).

    Ubarr I 2002 is one of Wamud’s most significant works as it departs radically from his usual crowded scenes of performers painted in a simple palette of red and white. He uses negative space to great effect, with the central performers dramatically enclosed within the rectangular ceremonial ground. Instead of his characteristic fine parallel hatching to decorate the central figures, he picks out their images in white dots which refer to kunmed, the small circles of coloured dots used as body decoration in the Ubarr ceremony.

    Margie West

    [1] Murray Garde, ‘The forbidden gaze: the Wubarr ceremony performed for the American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land’, unpublished conference paper, ‘Barks, birds and billabongs’, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2009.

    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