Jarinyanu D. DOWNS, Moses and Aaron leading the Jewish people across the Red Sea Enlarge 1 /1

Jarinyanu DOWNS

Wangkajunga/Walmajarri peoples

Australia 1925 – 1995

Moses and Aaron leading the Jewish people across the Red Sea 1989 Place made: Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Dimensions: 198.0 h x 137.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1316
Image rights: © Estate of Jarinyanu David Downs, courtesy Mangkaja Arts

Jarinyanu David Downswas born near Lake Gregory, between the Great Sandy and the Tanami Deserts of Western Australia, and grew to become a man steeped in the traditions of the Wangkjunga people, and a Christian—to him, Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity answered the same questions about life.

Downs began his public art career in Fitzroy Crossing in the late 1960s, carving artefacts for tourists. It was not until the 1980s that Downs started to paint traditional stories and integrate them with his strong Christian beliefs. In fact he produced two bodies of work: one that dealt with ancestral themes, the other with episodes from the Bible.

In a painting such as this, Downs is using an ancestral narrative as a template for interpreting a biblical story. For the Western Desert peoples, the Tingari are among the major creator beings, and they are commonly described as two major figures leading a group of people across the desert. Their stories parallel the Old Testament epic of Moses, Aaron and the Jewish people fleeing from the Egyptians across the Red Sea. Among the footprints in the painting, two sets stand out larger than the others, symbolising Moses and Aaron; and each footprint has six toes, indicating that, as with the Tingari, these were no ordinary mortals, but beings who possess supernatural powers.

In the blue arc of the sea, the Egyptians and their horses drown, while the chalice-like forms shine like lights, illuminating the way for the ancestors to their promised country—Downs describes these as tilly lamps (old kerosene lamps) from his childhood.

Kelli Cole

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