Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

Australia 1969 – 2013

Untitled (Mardayin at Barrihdjowkkeng) 2004 Place made: Maningrida, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 192.0 h x 89.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2005
Accession No: NGA 2005.1047
Image rights: © Timothy Wulanjbirr. Licensed by Viscopy
  • Timothy Wulanjbirr comes from a family of renowned artists including his father Crusoe Kuningbal (1922–1984), mother Lena Kuriniya (c 1939–2003) and brothers Crusoe Kurddal (born 1964) and Owen Yalandja. Living and working in Maningrida has exposed Wulanjbirr to many other masterful Kuninjku artists like John Mawurndjul. It was Mawurndjul’s exploration and experimentation with the traditional body design, rarrk, in bark painting that had a major influence on Wulanjbirr.

    Untitled (Mardayin at Barrihdjowkkeng) 2004 relates to the important Mardayin ceremony that enables the transfer of knowledge and sacred objects, designs and mortuary themes to young initiates through the painting of rarrk designs on their chests. Barrihdjowkkeng is a camp next to a sacred Yirritja moiety billabong that is associated with the yawkyawk or young female spirits who are often described as mermaids, although in ancestral terms they were beings in human form who transformed their bodies in order to be able to swim. Yawkyawks are the main subject of works created by Wulanjbirr’s brother Owen.

    It is evident in Untitled (Mardayin at Barrihdjowkkeng) that, although structurally and compositionally different to John Mawurndjul’s variations of rarrk patterns, Wulanjbirr also uses layers upon layers of fine, delicate lines. The repetitive geometric square pattern of red, white and black in a precise matrix of rarrk creates a visually mesmerising effect that makes Wulanjbirr’s paintings shimmer with dynamic movement.

    Tina Baum

    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