Kuninjku people

Australia 1924 /1928 – 2009

Mimih Spirits Dancing 1981 Place made: Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings paintings, natural earth pigments on Eucalyptus bark Support: Eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: bark 86.0 h x 53.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2014
Accession No: NGA 2014.691
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd
  • Kuninjku artist Wamud Namok (Bardayal Nadjamerrek AO) was a ceremonial leader and renowned artist whose skills as a painter transferred easily from the local rock art walls in his Kabulwarnamyo country to carefully prepared Eucalyptus bark to commercial paper. Primarily using natural ochres, clay and charcoal in his work, Namok continued to depict the same figurative animals and spirit beings that he had painted since he was a young man. He always worked closely with his children and grandchildren to ensure his extensive traditional knowledge and Kuninjku teachings were passed down.

    Mimih spirits dancing is a masterful work that resembles similar figurative compositions in rock art in the western Arnhem escarpment. It shows nine slender figures, three women and six men, three per row, all facing skywards while dancing vigorously. The outer dancers surround two central male musicians, each with feathered hair adornments, who with clap-stick striking and yidaki blowing provide the energy for the scene. The dynamic motion of the outer dancer’s arms and legs are caught mid step and mid jump with each participant’s mouth open in song.

    Like the rock art galleries in western Arnhem Land the background is painted deep ochre red, which accentuates the figures. Each performer, from torsos to elbows and knees, is decorated with extremely fine linear clan designs with only the lower legs, lower arms and head for the men, and a small section of breastbone for the women, painted in striking white. These body designs add further motion and energy to this important Mardayin ceremony, which brings together the regional communities belonging to both the Dhuwa and Yirritja moieties of western Arnhem Land.

    Namok’s notoriety as a Kuninjku elder, traditional rock art practitioner and contemporary Australian artist will remain through his magnificent works in the national collection. They enable us to continue showcasing his masterful skills as an artist, his traditional stories and culture, and to give his community and family a legacy they can be proud of.

    Tina Baum Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

    in artonview, issue 78, Winter 2014