John MAWURNDJUL AM, Rainbow Serpent (Ngalyod) with female mimi spirit Enlarge 1 /1

John MAWURNDJUL AM

Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) people

Mumeka, near Mann River, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia born 1952

Rainbow Serpent (Ngalyod) with female mimi spirit 1984 Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 123.5 h x 74.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1984
Accession No: NGA 84.1956
Image rights: © John Mawurndjul. Licensed by Viscopy

Since the early 1990s John Mawurndjul has been living and working in his traditional country at Milmilngkan, an outstation near the larger settlement of Maningrida.

Mawurndjul’s early paintings often contained figurative references—Ngalyod (the rainbow serpent), yawkyawk spirits, animals and ancestral beings—as well as visual references to the culturally sacred Mardayin ceremonial designs. Mardayin designs were originally painted on the bodies of young initiates to indicate their connections to their ancestral homelands, mapping their country in physical form.

As Mawurndjul’s recent bark paintings and lorrikitj (hollow funeral poles) have become more refined and intricate, the presence of Mardayin designs has come to dominate his oeuvre. Still embedded within these increasingly abstracted Mardayin forms are sacred stories of law.

The visual effect of these prismatic grids is almost hypnotic and a deliberate intention of the artist to suggest the incredible ancestral power inherent in his art. The thin and delicate rarrk heralds the power of ancestral beings who inhabit Western Arnhem Land and demonstrate Mawurndjul’s masterful and dynamic arrangement of rarrk.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

John Mawurndjul’s early paintings often contained figurative references—Ngalyod (the Rainbow Serpent), yawkyawk spirits, animals and ancestral beings—as well as visual references to the culturally sacred Mardayin ceremonial designs, which are painted on the bodies of young initiates to indicate their connections to their ancestral homelands; mapping their country in physical form.

Mawurndjul began to produce larger paintings of these subjects in the 1980s. In Rainbow Serpent (Ngalyod) with female mimih spirit the overpowering form of the Rainbow Serpent covers the whole surface of the bark, twisting and encricling two yawkyawk sisters. Ngalyod is depicted in the act of swallowing the sisters at a sacred site in the artist’s country, Kurdjarnngal. In Kuninjku cosmology, Ngalyod swallows spirit beings and regurgitates them as spiritually charged features of the landscape.

The visual effect of the prismatic grids on Ngalyod’s body is hypnotic and a deliberate intention of the artist to suggest the overwhelming ancestral energy inherent in his art. The thin and delicate rarrk (crosshatching) proclaims the power of this ancestral being who inhabits Western Arnhem Land—and demonstrates Mawurndjul’s masterful and dynamic application of this technique.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014