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Iwaidja people

Australia 1923 /1927 – 1993

Mimih figures [Bark painting: Mimi spirits, one male and one female kangaroo/human figures sitting] c.1963 Place made: Minjilang (Croker Island), Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Primary Insc: KK71
Dimensions: 66.5 h x 42.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Founding Donors Fund 1984
Accession No: NGA 85.1299
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd

Paintings made for the purposes of magic and sorcery are found on the walls of rock shelters across the Arnhem escarpment and on bark paintings. The making of magic paintings is regarded as a benevolent activity—a drawing of a pregnant woman may promote fertility in a loved one, or an image of an animal is painted in anticipation of a successful hunt. Sorcery images, on the other hand, are created with the express purpose of bringing harm to an individual. In these works, figures are usually drawn in unnatural positions with multiple limbs.

Durdanga’s painting relates to sorcery: here a male and female mimih are depicted with the legs of kangaroos. They are drawn back to back in mirror image, such that, from a distance, the viewer’s first impression is that the painting depicts one figure with several limbs.

Durdanga was one of a group of artists who lived at Minjilang off the coast of western Arnhem Land. Minjilang was an unsettled community where the influence of the Christian mission was strong. Nonetheless, artists were commissioned to produce such works by a number of anthropologists and collectors. Mimih figures c 1963 was collected by Karel Kupka, who made the first of several journeys to northern Australia in the 1950s to collect on behalf of a number of European museums. His personal collection was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in 1985.

Wally Caruana

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