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An image of Mardayin by John Mawurndjul

John Mawurndjul

(Australia 1952 – )

Language group
Kuninjku, Arnhem region
Place of origin
Liverpool RiverWestern Arnhem LandNorthern TerritoryAustralia
Media category
Bark painting
Materials used
natural pigments on eucalyptus bark

215.5 x 81.0 cm (irreg.)

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased 2002
Accession number
© John Mawurndjul. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Not on display
Further information

John Mawurndjul's painting 'Mardayin' 2001 is an outstanding example of the most recent development in his style. 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 bark. These 'abstract' bark 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 when seen by people.

This work by Mawurndjul concerns a secret patri-moiety ceremony called Mardayin. The painting refers to Kakodbebuldi, an outstation in the Dangkorlo clan estate in the Mann River region, that is also a Mardayin ceremony performance site. The cross-hatching or raark refers to the ceremonial designs painted onto the participant's bodies as well as to Mawurndjul's role as a ceremonial clan leader. It also refers to the ceremony itself and its sand sculpture decorated with two Mardayin poles (the two red dots in the upper half of the painting). The black line represents the pole and a watercourse flowing through the artist's clan country. (Information provided by Murray Garde and Christiane Keller, Maningrida Arts and Culture).

Mawurndjul is arguably the finest bark painter working at the moment. He is particularly noted for his fine rarrk and the distinctive patterning that is displayed in the painting 'Untitled' 2000. Mawurndjul was tutored by his brother Jimmy Njiminjuma (b.1945) and uncle, Peter (Djakku) Marralwanga (c.1916-1987), both superb artists.

John Mawurndjul has had solo exhibitions at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in Melbourne since 1991. He regularly shows at Annandale Galleries in Sydney and his work is in many public and private collections in Australia and overseas. Mawurndjul has won several prizes including the 1999 Telstra Bark Painting Award at the 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, 2002

Bibliography (2)

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

Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 92 (colour illus.), 226.

Exhibition history (4)

18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 15 Sep 2001–06 Jan 2002

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

John Mawurndjul and Gulumbu Yunupingu: Earth and Sky, 28 Mar 2015–08 Jun 2015