Jack KALA KALA, Balangu, two sharks Enlarge 1 /1


Rembarrnga people

Australia 1925 – 1987

Balangu, two sharks 1986 Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 130.0 h x 60.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1032
Image rights: © Estate of Jack Kala Kala. Licensed by Viscopy

Jack Kala Kala was an elder of the Balngarra clan of the Rembarrnga people and a ceremonial leader who conceived of his art as a repository of cultural knowledge for future generations of Rembarrnga. Balangu, the ancestor depicted in the form of two sharks in this painting, endowed people with the humanising elements of culture: he gave them ceremony and law, and named everything in their universe. In a very real sense, Balangu is therefore the embodiment of this knowledge.

Balangu travelled from the eastern coast of Arnhem Land in the wet season and, as the rivers rose, he was washed far inland to a waterhole at Ngangalala on the Glyde River where his spirit resides, beyond Rembarrnga country. From here, Balangu entered the ground at various places and surfaced at freshwater lagoons. Wherever his body went into the earth there is now a deposit of red ochre that is the transformation of the ancestor’s blood. Thus the red pigment used by Kala Kala in this painting is more than just colour, as it makes a direct, physical connection with the ancestor who is the subject of the work. 

Balangu carries the sacred dilly bag, Kunmatj, which appears in the right margin of the composition, beside two digging sticks. Such bags are usually woven by men and older women and are decorated with clan designs, feathers and strips of cloth for use in ceremony. Kunmatj contain a senior man’s sacred possessions.

That Shark was carrying that bag all the way from salt water to freshwater. Every ‘business’ [ceremony] you must carry this bag. He’s mardayin [secret law] man, this shark.[1]

Wally Caruana

[1] J Kala Kala, in D Moon Jack Kala Kala & Charlie Rurrkula, exhibition at Aboriginal Artists Gallery, Melbourne, Maningrida Arts and Crafts, Maningrida, 1987.

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