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An image of Yawkyawk by Jimmy Njiminjuma
Alternate image of Yawkyawk by Jimmy Njiminjuma

Jimmy Njiminjuma

(Australia 1947 – 02 Oct 2004)

Language group
Kuninjku, Arnhem region
Other titles:
Yawk Yawk figure
Yawkyawk figure
Place of origin
MumekaCentral Arnhem LandNorthern TerritoryAustralia
Cultural origin
Maningrida Arts and Culture
Media category
Bark painting
Materials used
natural pigments on eucalyptus bark

157.0 x 63.0 cm (irreg.)

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 2001
Accession number
© Jimmy Njiminjuma. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Yiribana Gallery
Further information

Jimmy Njiminjuma is currently one of the most senior artists in the western Arnhem Land region. For many years he lived with his father, Anchor Kulunba, at Mumeka outstation. Njiminjuma says that his father and his uncle Peter Marralwanga showed him how to paint. In the 1980s Njiminjuma took a strong role in teaching his younger brother John Mawurndjul the art of bark painting. Njiminjuma has now established an outstation at Kurrurldul on Mimarlar Creek, a tributary of the Tomkinson River, south of Maningrida.

Njiminjuma is adept at painting a number of subjects, and one of his recurring themes is the yawkyawk. These figures are understood to be a kind of female water sprite, and the Kuninjku often paint them with the forked tail of a fish and long flowing hair likened to the trailing waterweed of freshwater streams. In 'Yawkyawk', 2000, Njiminjuma depicts the form of the spirit being, embedded in the sacred landscape of Milmingkan, in his clan lands. The rarrk (crosshatched) designs at the left of the painting represent the banks of the waterhole, and the fork-tailed figure is shown outlined against a field of rarrk that represents the site.

Part of the creativity in Njiminjuma's painting is evident in his ability to construct complex figures that merge with the geometric background designs. These designs have their basis in the body paintings of the Mardayin ceremony, in which the participants are marked with images of the landscape that is their birth heritage. In bark paintings, the incorporation of geometric designs and figurative elements reveals Kuninjku beliefs in how certain landscape forms were moulded by the creative actions of ancestral beings. The ancestral beings entered the earth at these special places and exist there still as an animating life force.

Luke Taylor in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales

Bibliography (4)

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 2002, 'Year in review', pg. 8-25, Sydney, 2002, 9.

Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, front cover (colour illus., detail), 77 (colour illus.), 229.

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.).

Luke Taylor, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Jimmy Njimimjuma', pg. 112, Sydney, 2004, 112 (colour illus.), 113 (colour illus., detail).

Exhibition history (3)

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

Country Culture Community (2008-09), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Nov 2008–19 Apr 2009

Our spirits lie in the water, 15 Nov 2014–01 Nov 2015