John MAWURNDJUL AM, Ngalkunburriyaymi or Yawkyawk Enlarge 1 /1


Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

Mumeka, near Mann River, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia born 1952

Ngalkunburriyaymi or Yawkyawk 1991 Place made: Maningrida, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 166.0 h x 82.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1991
Accession No: NGA 91.873
Image rights: © John Mawurndjul. Licensed by Viscopy

Yawkyawk, or Ngalkunburriyaymi, are female water spirits with the torso of a woman and the tail of a fish who were swallowed by Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent. The figures are represented in a cryptic fashion, and the focus is upon the more geometric elements of the design that represent features of the landscape at Kurdjarnngal.

John Mawurndjul lives at Milmilngkan and Mumeka outstations in his clan lands in Western Arnhem Land. His home is adjacent to a deep waterhole created by the ancestral Rainbow Serpent called Ngalyod.

Kuninjku people believe that the world began with the birth of all the ancestral beings, in human and animal form, who came out of the body of the Rainbow Serpent. These beings went on their separate journeys and shaped the world through their creative actions. Where one of these beings spilled their blood, for example, we now find large bodies of red ochre; where the being dived into the earth, now there is a large waterhole. At the end of these creation journeys the Rainbow Serpent swallowed the beings back into the earth.

The distincitve rarrk or cross-hatched designs in Mawurndjul's work relate to the body paintings worn by the male initiates in Mardayin ceremonies. The visual sparkle of the rarrk expresses the presence of supernatural forces. The paintings on the initiates' bodies also map ancestral lands to express the intimate connection between the individual and their ancestrally inherited country.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra