John MAWURNDJUL AM, Milmilngkan Enlarge 1 /1

John MAWURNDJUL AM

Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

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

Milmilngkan 2008 Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: Unframed 153.0 h x 80.7 w x 6.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.573
Image rights: © the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd

John Mawurndjul is the leading artist of the Kuninjku language-speaking group working near Maningrida in north-central Arnhem Land. He has an international reputation as an innovator in the form of bark painting and has been a star inclusion in several exhibitions overseas, including a retrospective of his life’s work at the Museum Tinguely in Basel in 2005.

Milmilngkan is a sacred place in his Kurulk clan lands. In recent years Mawurndjul has established his own outstation adjacent to this large billabong, on a tributary of the Tomkinson River. Painting this site has become an important way of venerating the power of the land at this place. While western Arnhem Land bark painters are well known for their figurative work, Mawurndjul has been a leader in instituting a form of painting that he describes as ‘Mardayin way’. The geometric designs of such paintings are inspired by the sacred body paintings used in the Mardayin ceremony, and yet Mawurndjul also says that he has changed them to create something more suitable for general public display. In essence, the grid of the painting and associated circular motifs suggest the waters that feed into the main billabong at Milmilngkan, while the waves of multicoloured crosshatching indicate the ancestral energy that emanates from this place. For Kuninjku, the spiritual power of the ancestors is considered to continue in inexhaustible supply at such places, and to radiate in a way that maintains the fertility of the land and the wellbeing of humans who live there.

Luke Taylor


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

John Mawurndjul is the leading artist of the Kuninjku language-speaking group working near Maningrida in Western Arnhem Land. He has an international reputation as an innovator in the form of bark painting and has been a star inclusion in several exhibitions overseas, including a retrospective of his work at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, in 2005.

The billabong at Milmilngkan is a sacred place in his Kurulk clan lands. Mawurndjul established his own outstation adjacent to this large billabong, on a tributary of the Tomkinson River. Painting this site has become an important way of venerating the power of the land at this place. While Western Arnhem Land bark painters are well known for their figurative work, Mawurndjul has been a leader in instituting a form of painting that he describes as ‘Mardayin way’. The geometric designs of such paintings are inspired by body paintings associated with the sacred Mardayin ceremony, and Mawurndjul says that he has altered them to create something more suitable for general public display.

In essence, the grid of the painting and associated circular motifs suggest the waters that feed into the main billabong at Milmilngkan, while the waves of multicoloured crosshatching indicate the ancestral energy that emanates from this place. For Kuninjku, the spiritual power of the ancestors is considered to continue in inexhaustible supply at such places, and to radiate in a way that maintains the fertility of the land and the wellbeing of humans who live there.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014