Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
Bark Paintings - post 1980, North Queensland and Tiwi Islands gallery See nearby items (accurate to +/- 12 hrs)


Tiwi people

Australia 1924 /1928 – 2003

Jurrah 1995 Place made: Melville Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments and gum on canvas

Dimensions: 149.0 h x 118.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1996
Accession No: NGA 96.867
Image rights: © Kitty Kantilla and Jilamara Arts + Craft
  • Kitty Kantilla was one of the senior Tiwi artists who commenced her public art career in the 1970s when she, along with a number of other elder Tiwi people, were living at Paru on Melville Island, just across the Apsley Strait from the community of Nguiu on Bathurst Island. The short distance was enough to ensure that those at Paru could lead a more traditional life, away from the influences of the Catholic mission at Nguiu. Consequently, the artists of Paru retained traditional techniques that they would adapt to new forms, as Kantilla did when she moved to Milikapiti (Snake Bay) on Melville and took to painting on canvas. As with many Tiwi artists, Kantilla rarely explained the symbols and designs in her paintings, preferring to say simply that she paints like her father and her grandfather. In this case, Kantilla described Jurrah 1995 as depicting her country at Yimpinari, the place where she was born and grew up. Yimpinari means sunrise, as it is on the eastern tip of Melville Island. Kantilla said that the painting also shows flowers, mangroves and some of the dangerous snakes that inhabit them.[1] As with other canvases by Kantilla, the composition of this picture bears similarities to those painted on the sides of some of the earliest bark baskets (tunga) collected by the ethnologist C P Mountford in 1954.[2]

    Wally Caruana

    [1] Kitty Kantilla, quoted in The third national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage art award: the art of place, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra, 1996, p 20.

    [2] C  P Mountford, The Tiwi: their art, myth and ceremony, Phoenix House, London, 1958. The collection is housed at the South Australian Museum, Adelaide.

    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

  • Kitty Kantilla is one of the senior artists based at Jilamara Arts and Crafts on Melville Island. She employs both brushes and coconut sticks to apply natural ochres to bark, paper and linen. Her work is both subtle and strong, with intricate lines of dots, bold areas of solid ochre and sections of delicate line work. Occasionally, Kitty gives a story regarding her work but this is relatively rare, indeed her usual response to queries regarding her work is that she ‘paints like her father and grandfather’.

    When interviewed regarding this painting in 1995, she indicated that it depicted her country – the Tiwi name for her country is Yimpinari (sunrise) and is situated on the eastern tip of Melville Island. She said it portrayed the mangroves in the area, and the flowers and some of the crosshatched lines represented the dangerous snakes which abound in the mangroves. Country is important to the Tiwi; among other things, it represents close relationships with others from the same country, it is where the ‘ancestors bones’ are and it represents food to keep the living alive: ‘Plenty buffalo, mud crab, fish’.1

    Yimpinari is where Kitty grew up with her parents, siblings and many others. Here she lived a traditional life, living under paperbark shelters and eating traditional foods. She recalls these times fondly, often recounting the abundance of food in the area. Sadly, since Kitty left as a young woman she has never returned to her country. During a recent interview, she indicated that it is too far and she is now too old to undertake such a journey back to her birthplace.

    Felicity Green, 2002

    1  Kitty Kantilla, quoted in The Third National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Art Award: The art of place, Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission, 1996, p.20.

    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