Australia 1926 – 1986
Wadeye (Port Keats), Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments on composition board
A Christian mission was established at Wadeye (Port Keats) in the Fitzmaurice and Daly Rivers region in 1935 on land belonging to the Diminhin clan of the Murrinhpatha group. It serviced a number of neighbouring groups, including the Marringarr to which Mardigan belonged. The area, to the south-west of Darwin, lies along old traditional trade routes. It also has a strong cultural connection with desert groups and this is evident in the styles of painting and in the iconography of Wadeye art.
In this painting Mardigan employs two types of representation. The musicians and participants in the ceremony are depicted in a figurative manner, as are the three ceremonial boards that are the dominant forms in the painting. By way of contrast, the images on the boards are depicted using conventional geometric designs including sets of concentric circles, journey lines that join these, and forms composed of parallel lines. These designs are called ‘dirrmu’ by the Murrinh peoples—dirrmu implies a sense of aesthetic appreciation of the designs as expressions of the orderly nature of the universe, and of human society. These are graphic types that are common to the art of the desert.
Painting on bark is not part of the artistic traditions of the people of the Wadeye region. Artists were introduced to bark in the 1950s by missionaries who recognised the growing market for bark paintings from Arnhem Land. When bark was in short supply, artists would occasionally resort to other types of painting support, in this case composition board of a type used in buildings.
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