Tiwi people

Australia 1920 – 1973

The tide and seawood drifting over coral and sandbars in the moonlight the night Purrukuparli died in the sea c 1970 Place made: Melville Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 95.0 h x 31.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1973
Accession No: NGA 73.283
  • Brook Aurangnamarri was one of a talented group of artists active at the government settlement at Milikapiti (Snake Bay) on Melville Island during the 1960s and early 1970s. During this time Milikapiti became the creative hub of the Tiwi Islands and was visited by a number of influential researchers and collectors including Helen Groger-Wurm, Louis Allen and Sandra Le Brun Holmes who originally acquired this painting around 1970. Along with bark paintings, figure carvings and burial poles, the artist regularly produced finely barbed ceremonial spears that he was taught to make by his father, Old Brook Wommatakimmi (1900-deceased) a particularly gifted spear-maker.[1]

    The rhythmic, intertwined and irregular patterns in Aurangnamarri’s The tide and seaweed … c 1970 is quite a departure from his more conventionalised images of circles and parallel lines. In keeping with the Tiwi emphasis on personal inventiveness his work is quite original although it does have certain parallels with the coral and moonlight series from the same period by fellow artist Deaf Tommy Mungatopi (1925–1985). Aurangnamarri’s symbolic seascape is the backdrop for the most tragic event in Tiwi cosmology: the night Purrukuparli drowned after his son Jinani died of neglect during a tryst between Purrukuparli’s wife Waiyai (Bima) and his brother Taparra. In sorrow Purrukuparli took his son’s body and walked into the sea at Tamparraimi in the south-east of Melville Island after performing the first Pukumani mortuary ceremony. The moonlight here refers to Taparra’s transformation into the moon, whose waxing and waning is a constant reminder of human mortality and the cycle of life and death.

    Margie West

    [1] John Wilson, Jilamara Arts and Craft, Milikapiti, personal communication with the author, 10 February 2010.

    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