"In 1996, I undertook a commission [for John W. Kluge] to clearly show Yolŋu and ŋäpaki (non-Yolŋu) things they did not know. To the ŋäpaki, this was “artwork.” They thought mistakenly that these were just mundane designs, nothing but pretty pictures. Although I was doing this for money, I was really doing it to explain clearly about those two kinds of important places, from the freshwater up to the saltwater.
And while I was consistently painting like this, I was given an award [the Bark Painting Prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, 1996]. I explained clearly about my Country and told them: “This is for this place, this is its design and its pattern. I explained to them that these designs were put down in Country by the ancestors. So, they gave me that award to thank me for these beautiful designs. It gave them pleasure to see this work that came from Yolŋu artists, but for me its significance is that these designs were put into our Country by the ancestors and then passed on down to us by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, so that now we paint them."
– DJAMBAWA MARAWILI
The journey of freshwater through Country to the sea is the theme of Yolŋu paintings. This painting narrates the course of freshwater to the sea for the Maḏarrpa clan.
At Bäniyala, the saltwater Maḏarrpa look after the miny’tji (clan designs) for the freshwater Maḏarrpa. The miny’tji alters as the water passes through three different areas on its final journey to the sea. The design represents the ancestral fire that first came to northeast Arnhem land during the Waŋarr (creation times). Bäru the ancestral crocodile holds the fire on its nest Garraŋalili at Baykultiji. The freshwater rat is depicted here. The water then enters the tidal mud flats at Barraltja, the residence of the Lightning Snake. The serpent faces upstream, and upon tasting the freshwater rain he stands on his tail and spits lightning into the sky. In doing so, he communicates with the Lightning Snakes of other, closely related clans.
This painting was created at a pivotal moment in Djambawa Marawili's life as he was rising to become an important leader for the Maḏarrpa clan. It was awarded the bark painting prize at the 1996 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
– Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
128 x 40
326 x 102
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.
Gift of John W. Kluge, 1997. 1996.0035.014.
Bäru | The Saltwater Crocodile
During the Waŋgarr (ancestral times), there was a woman named Dhamiḻiŋu. She lived with her...
Burrut’tji | Lightning Snakes
Burrut’tji is the name for Lightning Snakes. There are several Lightning Snakes, belonging to different...
About The Artist(s)
Djambawa, Djambawa Marawili, Djambuwa, Miniyawany, Terry
Djambawa Marawili AM is an acclaimed painter, sculptor and printmaker, and is a principal ceremonial leader of the Maḏarrpa clan of the Yolŋu people. He uses art as a tool in his practice as a cultural leader, and many of his artworks express the deep connection of Yolngu people to water and sea. In 1996 he won the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for the Best Bark Painting for a painting that is in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. A leader in the interface between non-Aboriginal and Yolngu people, Marawili led a successful campaign resulting in federal recognition of Yolngu sea rights in 2008. He was chosen by the Australian Prime Minister as a member of the Indigenous Advisory Council in 2013 and was named a Member of the Order of Australia. In 2019 he was awarded first prize in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards for his painting Americalili Marrtji | Journey to America, produced for the Maḏayin commission.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia
National Crafts Museum, New Delhi
The Open University, Milton Keynes
Queensland University of Technology
Supreme Court of the Northern Territory
Sydney Opera House Collection