Crusoe Kurddal maintains a sculptural practice that was invented by his father, the famed Kuninjku singer and artist Crusoe Kuningbal. Crusoe Kuningbal was broadly recognised as a virtuoso at singing and dancing stories associated with the mimih spirits, and he developed a way of representing these spirits in sculptural form for use in a Kuninjku trade ceremony called Mamurrng. Mamurrng is performed to promote good relations between different language groups and the trade of different items made by the respective groups. Humour is used throughout the ceremony to foster these amicable relations. Kuninjku people still smile with pleasure as they recall Kuningbal's hilarious performances and evocative singing. The dances performed around the tall, slender mimih sculptures are one of the more humorous elements in the ceremony. Kuninjku language speakers from western Arnhem Land tell many stories about the profane activities of these spirits. Part of the humour surrounding them relates to the mimih's elongated form – they are said to be so thin that a slight wind can break their necks. They slip through the cracks in the rock country to enter their own lands, which exist inside the rock.
In the 1960s, Kuninjku people began performing Mamurrng at Maningrida on special public occasions, and the white people in the town came to recognise Kuningbal's skills as the carver of these unique sculptural mimih forms. Kuningbal was encouraged to market his sculptures, and they became increasingly popular throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. When he died in 1984, his two sons, Crusoe Kurddal and Owen Yalandja, maintained their inherited skills of making mimih. Kurddal, in particular, continued using the red base colour and dotted patterning that his father had used. In the mid-1980s Kurddal was encouraged to make much larger sculptures than those of his father, and there are now monumental mimih in many public collections. From the late 1980s many Kuninjku people began to carve similar figures, but Kuningbal's two sons lead the way as innovators in these sculptural representations.
Luke Taylor in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004
© Art Gallery of New South Wales
natural pigments on wood
271.0 x 13.5 x 13.5 cm (irreg.)
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Gamarada, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Nov 1996–16 Feb 1997
Another Country, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Jul 1999–02 Apr 2000
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
Referenced in 9 publications
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art', pg. 208-241, Sydney, 1999, 224 (colour illus.).
Ewen McDonald, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 90 (colour illus.).
Margo Neale, Yiribana: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection, Sydney, 1994, 52 (colour illus.), 137, 139. plate no. 22
Hetti Perkins and Ken Watson, A material thing - objects from the collection, Sydney, 1999, 5 (colour illus.), 6.
Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Home + away', pg.1-86, Carlton, 2010, 63 (colour illus.), 279.
Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 195 (colour illus.), 224.
Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, 'Maningrida Arts and Culture', Sydney, 2004, (colour illus.).
Luke Taylor, One sun one moon: Aboriginal art in Australia, ‘Painting Djang: Art and inspiration in Western Arnhem Land’, pg. 85-91, Sydney, 2007, 90 (colour illus.).
Luke Taylor, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Crusoe Kurddal', pg. 66, Sydney, 2004, 66 (colour illus., detail), 67 (colour illus., left figure).