Australia 1936 – 2010
Untitled XXVI [Walkan-aw and Kalben designs]
[Kalben [Flying - fox Story Place] totem] 2008
Aurukun, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments with synthetic polymer paint binder on canvas natural earth pigments and charcoal with synthetic binder on canvas Support: canvas
The hypnotic bands of alternating ochres in Untitled XXVI 2008 symbolise two aw, or sacred totemic places, that lie within the Pambegan family’s traditional estate. Kalben, the Flying Fox Story Place, is located on the Watson River, and Walkaln-aw, the Bonefish Story Place, on the small Archer River. Both places are aw for the Pambegan and other family groups of the Winchanam clan. The associated ancestral stories of each aw are parables of the relationships between various sections of Wik society. Walkaln-aw is where Bonefish and his sister Mangrove had a fight over who should cook some meat. The story of Kalben recollects the events surrounding two young initiates who hunted flying foxes at initiation time, when eating the bats’ meat is prohibited. Still salient today, the events at Kalben and Walkaln-aw continue to be evoked in the Winchanam clan’s initiation ceremonies.
The tricoloured horizontal bands in Untitled XXVI are characteristic of the body painting designs worn by performers in the Winchanam ceremony, and the design itself derives from patterns found in peewee bird plumage.
The painting is almost kinetic in the way the bands move across the canvas—they have no beginning or end, and are instilled with a tempo reminiscent of poetry in motion. And, like poetry, Untitled XXVI brims with meanings and metaphor.
Pambegan Jnr makes his art to maintain and transfer cultural knowledge to younger Wik generations, and as a way of affirming his own identity: ‘if you don’t do anything, you lose everything’.
 C Woods, in B L Croft (ed), Culture Warriors, 2007, pp 36–8.
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