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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
The Kimberley gallery See nearby items (accurate to +/- 12 hrs)

Big John DODO

Karajarri people

Australia 1910 – 2003

Kungulo (head) [Kungulo (stone head)] 1987 Description: carved sandstone head
Place made: Bidyadanga Community (La Grange), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on sandstone

Dimensions: 28.0 h x 13.0 w x 17.5 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1550
  • Like many of his countrymen and women, Dodo was an experienced stockman who worked on surrounding stations for decades. His artistic practice began in the 1960s when he created heads out of mud and wood, becoming recognised as a master carver and passing his knowledge onto other artists in the region. He was previously renowned for his finely executed engraving work on wooden objects and pearl shells. In about 1984, the art collector Lord Alistair McAlpine visited the mission, met the artist and commissioned a series of carved stone heads. Since McAlpine’s departure from the region similar carvings are rarely produced.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

  • Big John Dodo was first introduced to sculpture in the early 1960s, when he carved two small anthropomorphic figures that represented Nyinyeri spirits for a new ceremony composed at La Grange Mission. Later he experimented further, moulding heads (kungulu) from mud and also carving them from wood and then stone.

    Dodo initially used stone from Mount Phire near Anna Plains Station on Eighty Mile Beach. Mount Phire is an important site where, in the Pukarikara (Dreaming), a Pulany Rainbow Serpent had tried to destroy a man, his wife and their small son. The Serpent was offended because the adults had allowed, after much importuning, the little boy to eat eggs found within a female goanna. Children are forbidden to eat these eggs.

    After the child had eaten the eggs a great storm came up. The family hid in a cave on the mountain, but looking out they could see a Pulany at the entrance of the cave trying to lure the lad out. The father however was a jalnganguru or ‘clever man’ who used magic to seal the family within the cave. The Pulany was furious and tore into the mountain with its teeth. It could not get at the family and in the morning disappeared along with the storm. The family then emerged safely from the cave. Dodo’s sculpture, carved from the very stone crushed by Pulany, represents the jalnganguru whose powerful spells saved his family.

    The success of Dodo’s sculptures led to a blossoming of stone sculpture among other artists in the Bidyadanga–Broome area during the 1980s.

    Kim Akerman

    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