Mara people

Australia 1934 /1938 – 2002

Limmen Bight Country 1993 Place made: Ngukurr (Roper River), South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on cotton duck

Dimensions: 143.0 h x 217.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.589
Image rights: Reproduced courtesy of the estate of the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
  • Ginger Riley grew up in the coastal salt water country of the Mara people along the Roper River around south-eastern Arnhem Land. During the 1950s, as a result of meeting Albert Namatjira, Munduwalawala decided to become an artist. However it was not until 1986 or 1987 that he first began to paint for the public domain. His style was based upon the Hermannsburg watercolour landscape tradition—he was attracted to the colour range in the paintings—although he soon developed a personal style of landscape painting in acrylics. Munduwalawala’s style is figurative and operates with a strong sense of depth and perspective. The foreground sets the parameters for the main focus of the work.

    The focus of the painting is the creation of the Four Archers by Garimala in the artist’s mother’s country. The island of Yumunkuni (Beatrice Island), seen in the lower left, was created by Ngak Ngak the Sea Eagle. Here, Bulukbun came out of the sea to devour the participants in a ceremony who had offended him by performing a ritual incorrectly. Ngak Ngak the Sea Eagle, shown in the upper centre of the painting devouring a snake, is the artist’s totem, and its depiction in the scene acts as a metaphor for the artist witnessing the creative acts of his ancestors. The central bands represent the Limmen Bight River; two images of the travelling Garimala are to the right; at the bottom is the shark’s liver tree; and to the left, angry Bulukbun with his fiery breath. The V-shaped decoration that frames the whole image is derived from designs painted on the shoulders of ceremonial participants.

    Franchesca Cubillo

    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

  • Description

    This is a painting by Mara artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala (1934/38-2002) depicting Garimala, the powerful snake ancestor creating the Four Archers, a geographical formation on the Limmen Bight River, in Munduwalawala’s mother’s country. The painting is shown as an enlargeable image and in a video. Text onscreen and the video soundtrack give information about the development of Munduwalawala’s practice, as influenced by the Hermannsburg watercolour landscape tradition made famous by Albert Namatjira, and also provides a strong visual analysis of the work of art, exploring the ancestors and stories presented. The painting measures 143.0 cm high x 217.0 cm wide and was painted using synthetic polymer paint on cotton fabric.

    Educational value

    • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand of the visual arts curriculum in the upper primary years especially for those content descriptions that refer to considering the broader context of works of art, such as their social, cultural and historical context and role of the artist and of the audience/s. It may also be useful for teachers of history in year 3 and 4 particularly in relation to content descriptions about the importance of connection to Country for Aboriginal peoples. This is demonstrated through the creation story depicted in the work of art.
    • This resource is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. It exemplifies the priority’s organising idea in relation to Aboriginal peoples: their special connection to Country and a celebration of the unique belief systems that spiritually connect people to land, sea, sky and waterways. The resource as a whole connects to another organising idea: Australia acknowledges the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally and globally. Ginger Riley Munduwalawala developed his own personal style of figurative landscape to become an influential and recognised artist.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra