Skip to content

Collection

An image of Lorrkkon by John Mawurndjul

John Mawurndjul

(Australia 1952 – )

Language group
Kuninjku, Arnhem region
Title
Lorrkkon
Place of origin
ManingridaCentral Arnhem LandNorthern TerritoryAustralia
Year
2003
Media category
Sculpture
Materials used
natural pigments on eucalpytus tetradonta
Dimensions

214.0 x 14.0 cm:

0 - Whole; 214 cm (84 1/4")

0 - Whole; 14 cm (5 1/2")

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Credit
Purchased 2004
Accession number
172.2004
Copyright
© John Mawurndjul. Licensed by Viscopy, Australia
Location
Not on display
Further information

Lorrkkon or Hollow Log Coffins are used to inter the bones of deceased people where traditionally the log is transformed into a ritually powerful container through singing and being painted with Ancestral figures. In the documentation for 'Lorrkkon' 2003 Maningrida Arts & Culture state: "The Lorrkkon or bone pole coffin ceremony was the final ceremony in a sequence of mortuary rituals celebrated by people of Arnhem Land. This ceremony involves the placing of the deceased’s bones into a hollow log which is decorated with painted clan designs and ceremonially placed into the ground where it remains until it slowly decays over many years".

The log is made from a termite hollowed Stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetradonta) and is decorated with totemic emblems.

The western Arnhem Land version of the Lorrkkon ceremony involves the singing of sacred songs to the accompaniment of karlikarli, a pair of sacred boomerangs used as rhythm instruments.

During the final evening of the ceremony dancers decorate themselves with kapok down, or today cotton wool and conduct much of the final segments of the ceremony in the secrecy of a restricted men's camp. The complete ceremony may stretch over a period of two weeks but on the last night the bones of the deceased which have been kept in a bark container, or today wrapped in cloth and kept in a suitcase, are taken out, are painted with red ochre and placed inside the hollow log. This ceremony may take place many years after the person has died.

At first light on the final morning of the Lorrkkon ceremony, the men appear, coming out of their secret bush camp carrying the pole towards the women's camp. The two groups call out to each other using distinct ceremonial calls. The women have prepared a hole for the pole to be placed into and when it is stood upright, women in particular kinship relationships to the deceased dance around the pole in a jumping/shuffling motion. The Lorrkkon is then often covered with a tarpaulin and left to slowly decay. John Mawurndjul's 'Lorrkkon' 2003 is a secular version.

During his painting career the artist has gradually moved from depicting familiar representations of such spiritual entities as Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent and the mermaid-like female spirits or Yawk Yawks, to dazzling abstract patterning that completely covers the surface of the log or bark. These 'abstract' paintings represent body painting for the Mardayin ceremonies and relate to sites near his homeland at Mumeka. There is also a connection with the dazzling optical effects associated with the skin of the rainbow serpent.

Mawurndjul is arguably the finest bark painter working at the moment. He is particularly noted for his fine rarrk (cross hatching) and the distinctive patterning that is displayed in this and other paintings. Mawurndjul was tutored by his brother Jimmy Njiminjuma (b.1945) and uncle, Peter (Djakku) Marralwanga (c.1916-1987), both superb artists.

John Mawurndjul won the NGV's Clemenger Contemporary Art Award for 2003 and has had numerous solo exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney since 1991. His work is in many public and private collections in Australia and overseas. Mawurndjul has won several prizes including the 1999 and 2002 Bark Painting Awards at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award held by the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory.

© Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004

Bibliography (1)

Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 205 (colour illus.), 226.

Exhibition history (3)

Lorrkon: Hollow logs from Maningrida, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Fitzroy, 03 Apr 2004–24 Apr 2004

Crossing country: the alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2004–12 Dec 2004

The Dreamers (2009-10), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 09 May 2009–15 Aug 2010