Australia 1908 – 1968
Bathurst and Melville Islands, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on wood Support: wood
This large carved sculpture of a Southeast Asian water buffalo is by Tiwi and Iwaidja artist Albert Croker (Gulabagu) and was created in the late 1950s.
Croker was born on the Tiwi Islands in 1908 and inherited his cultural responsibilities from his Tiwi mother. His father was an Iwaidja man from Croker Island off the coast of the Cobourg Peninsula in Arnhem Land who worked as a buffalo hunter with Robert Joel (Joe) Cooper on the Tiwi Islands during the mid to late 1890s and again in the early 1900s. As an adult, Croker worked in various jobs, including hunting feral buffalos as his father did. He also patrolled the northern coastline as a member of the Snake Bay Coast watch group during the Second World War.
The water buffalo played an important cultural and economic role in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Makassan fishermen from Indonesia engaged economically, culturally and socially with many Aboriginal peoples across the northern coastline, including the Tiwi Islands, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Due to this ongoing engagement with the Makassan, and the introduction of the species by the British in 1824, the water buffalo has been integrated into the Tiwi spiritual, ceremonial and cultural milieu.
Crocker is known for his masterful and unique sculptures of water buffalo, and this piece is his largest representation of the animal. The body, legs and horns were carved from a solid piece of ironwood, and the ears separately. Its smooth round body is painted in the Tiwi art style known as jilamarra (design). It is a sophisticated rendition with a distinctive persona.
This significant sculpture adds to our understanding and the National Gallery’s representation of early Tiwi carving and the greater Tiwi aesthetic.
Franchesca Cubillo, Senior Advisor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014