Dundiwuy WANAMBIWolpa WANAMBIMotu YUNUPINGU, Wawilak Sisters Enlarge 1 /2
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Dundiwuy WANAMBI

Marrakulu people

Australia 1934 /1938 – 1996

Wolpa WANAMBI

Marrakulu people

Australia born 1970

Motu YUNUPINGU

Gumatj people

Northern Territory, Australia born 1959


Artist's cultural association:
Marrakulu people
North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory , Australia
Language: Marrakulu
Marrakulu people
North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory , Australia
Language: Marrakulu
Wawilak Sisters 1995-96 Place made: Gurka'wuy, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments, feathers, hair resin and natural fibre on wood

Dimensions: installation (variable)
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1996
Accession No: NGA 96.1.A-C
Image rights: © Dundiwuy Wanambi courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka

The origins of the Wawilak (Wagilag) Sisters story are found in the land of the Marrakulu clan around Gurka’wuy, on Trial Bay on the east coast of Arnhem Land. Here the younger of the two Sisters falls in love with Wuyal, the Wild Honey ancestor, but their relationship is illicit, so the Sisters flee. Wuyal travelled through the country cutting into beehives in the hollow trunks of stringy-bark trees with his stone-headed axe. Consequently honey flowed into the ground—a metaphor for the ancestor’s powers soaking into the land. As he travelled, Wuyal encountered Dhulaku the Euro or Rock Wallaby jumping from rock to rock. Durndiwuy often portrays Wuyal carrying Dhulaku.

The Sisters are known by the term ‘Djuwany’, which also refers to decorated poles or posts used in related rituals—the posts are joined by lengths of feathered string that represent the trails of the female ancestors on their journey. The older Wawilak Sister is recognisable by her pendulous breasts and her figure is adorned with ritual feather-strings.

The figures’ bodies are decorated with Marrakulu clan miny’tji or sacred patterns featuring sections containing two boomerangs, face to face. With these boomerangs Wuyal named all the places in Marrakulu clan country. The faces of the ancestor figures are decorated in a dotted design, representing drops of honey that signify the spiritual life forces upon which the Marrakulu depend. These, in combination with the miny’tji, lend the surfaces of the sculptures a resonant visual aura that evokes the presence of the ancestral powers within the figures themselves.

Wally Caruana


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