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Gija people

Australia 1912 – 1996

Serpents/Darwin 1983 Place made: Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments on hardboard

Dimensions: 63.5 h x 91.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Mary Macha 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1054
Image rights: © the artist's estate courtesy Warmun Art Centre

Paddy Jaminji holds an extraordinary place in the history of the Indigenous art movement in the east Kimberley region. Along with Rover Thomas, Jaminji was responsible for the development of the East Kimberley style of painting: bold blocks of natural earthy pigments outlined by lines of white dots, and the combination of topographical and profile views of the landscape.

The mid 1970s were a time of social and cultural upheaval for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. Then on Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city of Darwin and ravaged parts of the eastern Kimberley. Aboriginal people of the region regard Darwin as the centre of European culture and, as cyclones are associated with ancestral Rainbow Serpents, Kimberley elders interpreted the event as a strong message to the Aboriginal people—if they continued to ignore their culture then the Serpent would also turn on them.

Not long after, the song cycles and rituals of the Kurirr Kurirr ceremony were revealed to Rover Thomas by the spirit of an aunt who died during the cyclone. As the owner of this Dreaming, Rover did not produce any of the painted boards carried in the ceremony, but rather instructed his aunt’s brother, Paddy Jaminji, in painting them with the correct designs.

Serpents/Darwin 1983 is typical of the painted boards carried in the Kurirr Kurirr. It shows the main image of the narrative when the cyclone, in the guise of an ancestral Rainbow Serpent, attacks Darwin, along with the Serpent connected to the place where the woman died.

Franchesca Cubillo

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