Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, is an iconic subject matter that is represented by all the important artists from western Arnhem Land. Kunwinjku use the term 'Rainbow' to refer to two distinct Ancestral Beings. One of these, Yingarna, is described as the original Creator Being, who is said to have androgynous qualities. In some stories, Yingarna's first-born is said to be a Rainbow Snake called Ngalyod whose sex is equally unclear. Kunwinjku tell how Yingarna, the most powerful and original creator, held all the original Ancestors or Dreaming inside her body until she was speared to let them out.
In 'Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent' 2002 James Iyuna has completely covered the field of the bark painting with intricate cross-hatched patterns. Two outward-looking heads dominate the top of the painting representing aspects of Ngalyod's character. The serpent's intertwined bodies are delineated by thin lines of yellow ochre that have been dotted with alternate black and white dots in reference to men's body painting for the Mardayin ceremonies. Waterlily leaves are also scattered across the painting representing the wetlands that Ngalyod inhabits.
Iyuna is one of four brothers living at Mumeka, an isolated outstation situated on the Mann River in the Arnhem Land escarpment that stretches along the southern extremity of Arnhem Land from Kakadu to Maningrida. Iyuna's other brothers are John Mawurndjul, Jimmy Njiminjuma and Bandawunga. Their father did not paint either on rock or bark. Their uncle, the prominent bark painter Peter Maralwanga, taught the brothers bark painting techniques. All four brothers have subsequently achieved fame as bark painters.
© Aboriginal & TSI Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2003
Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent)
natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
150.0 x 78.0 cm (irreg.)
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 2003
Not on display
© James Iyuna. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Where the work was made
Western Arnhem Land
Shown in 3 exhibitions
19th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 10 Aug 2002–27 Oct 2002
Crossing country: the alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2004–12 Dec 2004
Mumeka to Milmilgkan, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, 02 Nov 2006–15 Dec 2006
Referenced in 4 publications
Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, 'Site and subject', Sydney, 2004, (colour illus.).
Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 81 (colour illus.), 222.
Alison Harper, Art and Australia (Vol. 41, No. 4), 'Aboriginal art: aquisitions by Australia's public museums and galleries', pg. 612-614, Sydney, Jun 2004-Aug 2004, 613.
Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Home + away', pg. 1-86, Carlton, 2010, 48 (colour illus.), 279.