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Bardi people

Australia born 1930 – 2015

Swirling raindrops 1991 Place made: Broome, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, synthetic polymer paint on wood, cotton wool, wool, metal

Dimensions: each 59.0 h x 83.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1992
Accession No: NGA 92.1523.5.A-B

‘Ilma’ is a word that can mean either a song cycle or a dance performance. Ephemeral thread-cross constructions used in these dances are also termed ilma.

Ilma were originally made by winding hair-string around a frame of two or more sticks tied together to form either a single or double-ended cross. People stuck bird or vegetable down to the ilma to create further contrasts of colour.

With their access to tin and plywood, wire, commercial paints, kapok, cotton wool and coloured yarns, the Bardi developed ilma into an art form. Frames cut from tin or plywood meant they could create more complicated forms than were previously possible. Ilma were shaped into islands, reefs and other topographic features. Lightning, whirlpools, tidal features, clouds and artefacts were also depicted in these complex yet elegant constructions.

Bardi elder and artist Roy Wiggan has been creating ilma as art since the 1980s. Like many artists who work in a traditional milieu, Roy receives inspiration for his creations through dream visitations from the spirits of dead relations as he sleeps.

Ilma are best viewed at night as dancers manipulate them, revealing and concealing the colourful broad faces of the ilma with a twist of their wrists. In the firelight, moving to the beat of clapped boomerangs and the low chant of the songman and chorus, all against the murmur of the great northern tides, the ilma are a truly spectacular art form.

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