Alawa people

Australia 1917 – 1996

Alawa country [Gabal Ritual] 1991 Place made: Ngukurr (Roper River), South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Dimensions: 176.6 h x 130.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1991
Accession No: NGA 91.1303
Image rights: Reproduced courtesy of the estate of the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
  • Willie Gudabi was born at Nutwood Downs Station and grew up in his homelands—Alawa country near the Roper River—learning about his culture and heritage from his parents and grandparents. As a young man Gudabi worked as a stockman on a number of cattle stations and was involved in cultural life, including various sacred ceremonies and rituals within the region.

    Gudabi was first introduced to western art practices in 1987. After a brief period of printmaking, he took up painting with other Ngukurr artists including Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Djambu Barra Barra (c 1946–2005), Amy Johnson (born 1953) and Gudabi’s partner Moima Willie (born c 1935). Gudabi’s early canvases represent a complex mosaic of colourful interwoven time zones, ceremonies and places, with an elaborate cast of characters (including plants, animals, people and ancestors in human form). In his later years Gudabi developed a style of using multi-panelled vignettes to divide the canvas into sections in which different acts of ceremony could be represented. Gudabi’s paintings always burst forth with life and depict the dynamism and abundance of Alawa country.

    Alawa country is an intricate and richly populated painting filled with the abundant life and energy of Gudabi’s country around south-east Arnhem Land. It is a complex landscape that sustains the Aboriginal people of the region in both the physical and spiritual realms. Gudabi highlights the importance of ritual and ceremonial practices in maintaining the balance of life with his inclusion of human figures in ceremonial regalia.

    Franchesca Cubillo

    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