Attributed to PANKALYIRRI, Ngayunangalku, spirit being of Lake Disappointment Enlarge 1 /2
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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
Desert Painting from 1975 gallery See nearby items

On display on Level 1

Attributed to PANKALYIRRI

Kurajarra people

Australia unknown – c.1970

Ngayunangalku, spirit being of Lake Disappointment [Ngayunangalgu figure] c.1943 Place made: Little Sandy Desert, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, mulga wood

Dimensions: 95.5 h x 23.6 w x 4.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1998
Accession No: NGA 98.169

Anthropomorphic sculptures are rare in the Indigenous art of the western deserts. This figure represents a Ngayunangalku: a man-eating spirit. It is one of handful of such sculptures in existence—other sculptures are said to represent Ngayunangalku spirit-children or Jijigarrgaly. According to the Mardu people, the Ngayunangalku live beneath the salt-encrusted surface of Lake Disappointment (Kumbubindil) in the Little Sandy Desert along the Canning Stock Route. Within the lake there exists another universe, with its own sky and a sun that shines permanently.

Among the existing Ngayunangalku and Jijigarrgaly sculptures there is some variation in detail of both facial features and the complexity of engraved designs on their bodies. The pronounced beak-like nasal area on this figure suggests that it represents a specific character from the Ngayunangalku mythology—possibly one of the adult Ngayunangalku who, in ancestral times, transformed themselves into butcherbirds so they could kill and eat an old man named Ngunyuna who lived at Bungulyi (a rocky outcrop in the McKay Ranges north of Lake Disappointment). Engravings on the sculpture represent weapons, ornaments and totemic designs.

Seen from a distance and bathed in flickering firelight on a ceremonial ground, this enigmatic sculpture must have had a stunning effect on the desert audience.

Pankalyirri was born at Bungulyi and had the Ngayunangalku as a major totem. As with many artistic innovations, the sculpture and its associated ceremonial verses and dances were inspired via the medium of a dream. Pankalyirri is believed to have first carved a Ngayunangalku figure in about 1940. Later, when resident at Jigalong Mission, he made several other similar sculptures over the next decade or so. The designs adorning at least four of these figures were engraved by Nyankapiti, Pankalyirri’s equivalent to a classificatory younger brother, who was also born near Bungulyi. Nyankapiti’s own totemic affiliations were with the Two Men or Wati Kutjarra Dreaming, and the broad bands that cross the body of the figure from shoulder to knee reflect this association.

The provenance of this work is tantalising. We know it was acquired by an Israeli collector in New York in 1961 from Julius Carlebach’s gallery of tribal art, a favourite haunt of émigré surrealist artists such as Max Ernst.

Kim Akerman

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

Wooden sculptures depicting humans are rare in Australian desert societies. Aboriginal people attach much significance to dream experiences, which in many areas inspired the creation of rituals, and it was one such experience that gave rise to this work. The Mardu people of Western Australia call this kind of popular contemporary ritual partunjarijanu ‘from the dream-spirit’.1 Through discussing their dreams with one another, groups of Mardu would periodically compose songs, tunes and dances around a given theme, and create associated body decorations, ornaments and sacred objects, from what had been revealed to them during trips undertaken in ‘dream-spirit’ form. 

This sculpture depicts a spirit being messenger, Jijigarrgaly, recognisable by the beautiful body-decorations. The engraved designs on the figure are related to rain-making, water and lightning, as well as the shimmer of light off the surfaces of bodies of water. Djidjigargal are most often encountered during dreams, in which they convey new knowledge to human society from the spiritual realm, home of the ancestral beings of ‘the Dreaming’. Pankalyirri, the Mardu elder who carved this figure, came from Punkulyi (McKay Ranges), and had as his ancestral totem the Ngayunangalku beings, who in the Dreaming created their own world under the surface of Lake Disappointment, and later became cannibals. They are said to live there still, so even today Mardu avoid the salt-lake.

According to Pankalyirri, around 1940 he saw this spirit child in a dream, then made the first of a small number of wooden figures depicting the Djidjigargal, to be exhibited during performances of a dream-spirit ritual whose main theme is the Ngayunangalku and their exploits. Because he was spiritally ‘descended’ from these ancestral beings, Pankalyirri felt a close affinity with them and was an active composer of songs for dream-spirit rituals. Those descended from the Ngayunanalku could safely interact with the associated spirit child messengers and could enlist the help of these ancestors; for example, in healing sick people. Wally Caruana notes: ‘The beak-like nose of the figure implies the profile of the butcher bird which is also associated with the attributes of health and well-being … The shape of this figure, with its flattish, slightly curved profile with accentuated nose, seems to derive from the shapes of carrying shields or even spear-throwers made in the area.’2

Robert Tonkinson, 2002.

1Robert Tonkinson, The Mardu Aborigines, 2nd ed., Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, p.123.

2Wally Caruana, Notes for the National Gallery of Australia, 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

《盖于南加库,失望湖精灵》(Ngayunangalku, spirit being of Lake Disappointment)
[盖于南加库形象] 约1943年
95.5(高) x 23.6(宽) x 4.0(深)厘米
收录号:NGA 98.169

西部沙漠土著艺术中鲜有拟人化雕塑。这一形象代表盖于南加库:一个食人幽灵。这是为数不多现存此类雕塑中的一件;据说,其他雕塑代表盖于南加库幽灵小孩,或称吉吉加加利(Jijigarrgaly)。根据玛多人传说,盖于南加库生活在小沙沙漠坎宁牧道(Canning Stock Route)旁边失望湖(康布滨迪)( Kumbubindil)的结晶盐盖下。湖里另有乾坤,有自己的天空和永不落的太阳。



潘卡立瑞出生于邦古力,盖于南加库是他崇拜的主要图腾。像很多艺术创新一样,雕塑及其相关仪式诗句和舞蹈的灵感源于梦境。据说,潘卡立瑞大约于1940年雕刻了他的第一个盖于南加库形象。后来,当成为吉加朗布道所居民时,其后约十年时间里,他创作了几件其他类似的雕塑。其中至少四件雕塑上的装饰性图案是由岩卡皮迪(Nyankapiti)雕刻完成的,他也出生于邦古力附近,是潘卡立瑞同辈的旁系弟弟。岩卡皮迪自己的图腾归属是两个男人(Two Men)或瓦迪库加瑞梦幻(Wati Kutjarra Dreaming),从肩部到膝盖贯穿雕塑躯干的宽带饰反映了这一联系。

这件作品的出处十分诱人。我们知道,一位来自纽约的以色列收藏家于1961年从朱利叶斯·卡尔巴赫(Julius Carlebach)的部落艺术美术馆获得了这件雕塑,该美术馆是马克斯·恩斯特(Max Ernst)等侨居超现实主义艺术家最喜欢光顾的场所。

Kim Akerman

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra