Wunambal people

Australia 1905 – 1981

Wandjina c.1980 Place made: Kalumburu, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments and oil on canvas

Dimensions: 159.0 h x 139.5 w cm overall 1625 h x 1403 w x 30 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1990
Accession No: NGA 90.1086
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd
  • Unlike most Wanjina images that seem to stare far into the distance, those painted by Alec Mingelmanganu appear to be the audience gazing at the viewer, rather than being the subject of a painting. The close-set eyes lend a disconcerting air of questioning to the image. In turn, the broad hunched shoulders suggest that the Wanjina may not be all that comfortable with the world of humans.

    Like most Wanjina painted in rock shelters, Alec’s figures possess a sense of enigmatic magnitude, a massiveness that projects far beyond the edges of the canvas. Mingelmanganu’s Wanjina paintings, executed in ochres on bark, were first exhibited publicly in mid 1975. As well as producing paintings for the (then) very limited market, Alec also engraved Wanjina figures, either singly or in groups, on tablets of stone or wood that had first been covered with a wash of ochre and gum.

    In 1979 he was introduced to canvas as a more stable surface on which to paint, and in 1980 he had his first solo exhibition in Perth. Inspired by large non-Aboriginal paintings he had seen in Perth, Alec then embarked on painting a series of large canvases, completing at least four superb works before his death in 1981. The larger size offered him the opportunity to render his images of Wanjina on a scale similar to that found in the rock art of the Kimberley. The monumental strength and character in these works ensures that Alec Mingelmanganu will be recognised as the greatest of the contemporary Wanjina artists of the Kimberley.

    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

  • In many parts of the Kimberley in Western Australia, the Wandjina ancestral beings established the laws of social behaviour. The Wandjina are associated with the life-giving properties of water. They bring the monsoonal rains and distribute the spirits of the unborn to their eventual parents. Mingelmanganu was the first artist in the region to continue the tradition on canvas. To convey the scale of the rock paintings, he used the possibilities presented by the size of canvas as opposed to the smaller sheets of eucalyptus bark which artists in the area were used to painting on.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

  • 明格曼噶努·亚力克 (MINGELMANGANU, Alec)
    159.00(高) x 139.50(宽)厘米




    Kim Akerman

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

  • Description

    This is a painting by Wunambal artist Alec Mingelmanganu (1905-1981) depicting Wanjina, creator beings of the Dreaming in the Kimberley. The painting is shown as an enlargeable image and in a video. Text onscreen and the video soundtrack gives information about Mingelmanganu’s life and paintings and describes the idiosyncratic style of the artist. Further, it articulates the impact of non-Aboriginal paintings on his art making and describes the nature of the Australian art market in the 1970s. The painting measures 159.0 cm high x 139.5 cm wide and was painted using natural earth pigments and oil on canvas.

    Educational value

    • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand in the 7-8 year bands in the visual arts curriculum, especially for those content descriptions that refer to students responding to the artworks of Australian artists, particularly Aboriginal artists, and considering the broader cultural context and significance of their work. It may also be useful for teachers of history in year 3 and 4 particular in relation to content descriptions about the importance of connection to Country for Aboriginal peoples. The figure is powerful in the Kimberley region as Wanjina ceremonies take place in the wet season to signify the beginning of rainfall.
    • The work is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. It exemplifies two of the priority’s organising ideas in relation to Aboriginal peoples: their special connection to Country and a celebration of the unique belief systems that spiritually connect people to land, sea, sky and waterways. The resource as a whole connects to another organising idea: Australia acknowledges the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally and globally. Alec Mingelmanganu is recognised as the greatest of the contemporary Wanjina artists of the Kimberley.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra