Australia 1930 – 1985
c.1982 Description: Exh.No.31
Place made: Melville Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Declan Apuatimi was well known for his distinctive, minimally shaped carvings in ironwood. He was not a prolific bark painter, however his talent for creating graphically powerful designs can be seen in this painting of pamijini. These disc-like armbands with feather tassels are worn during the final stage of the Pukumani burial ceremony to indicate the performers’ mourning status. Those closest to the deceased showed their affiliation by wearing the most pamijini along with plaited pandanus armbands called yarirringa. With their ceremonial regalia and intricate body decorations, the ritual performers sought to disguise themselves from the deceased’s ghost, mapurtidi, so it wouldn’t linger in this earthly domain. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the armbands were stripped off and left, like the body, to decay.
Many Tiwi designs, called jilamara, are described as ‘olden day’ images and given no particular meaning. Declan’s painting does show that Tiwi art can also symbolise important cosmological beliefs and practices indirectly through a seemingly simple object. He created contemporary paintings like this alongside the items used for Kulama (initiation) and Pukumani ceremonies, including burial poles, barbed spears and fibre items like the pamijini. After the establishment of the traditional art outlet Tiwi Pima at Nguiu in 1978, he became one of its most prolific and acclaimed artists and, as a tribute to his special status, Tiwi Pima assembled all of Declan’s work made between 1982 and 1985 for his first solo exhibition. This was the first of its kind for any Tiwi artist and included this painting, which Declan created shortly before his death.
 For further information about the significance of Tiwi and other armbands see Margie West, ‘Sunset strings and other things’, in E Ride (ed), Armlinks: an illustrated exploration of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal use of art adornments, Darwin Visual Arts Association Inc, Darwin, 1998, pp 4–8.
 M West, Declan, a Tiwi artist, Australian City Properties Ltd, Perth, 1989 (exhibition catalogue). The works in this exhibition are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
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