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Various artists

The senior Tiwi artists from the community of Milikapiti (Snake Bay) on Melville Island who made these tutini were Laurie Nelson Mungatopi (born 1923), Bob One Apuatimi (1925–1976), Jack Yarunga (c1910–1973), Don Burakmadjua (1925–1995), Charlie Quiet Kwangdini (born c1905) and an unknown artist.

Working consciously for an outside audience, they employed traditional techniques of carving and sculpture but used ironwood, rather than the traditional blackwood, which is reserved for ceremonies. Ever since, Tiwi artists have worked within these two separate contexts: ceremony and exhibition.

Tutini (Pukumani grave posts) 1958

The artists made this imposing group of 17 tutini following a commission for the Gallery. This was a groundbreaking artwork in 1958, presenting Aboriginal work in an art rather than an anthropological context.

Tutini or ceremonial grave posts like these are unique to the Tiwi culture of Melville and Bathurst islands, just off the coast of Darwin. A central feature of this culture is the Pukumani funerary ceremony, which commemorates the death of Jinani (son of the ancestor Purukuparli) and celebrates the lives of those who have passed away. At the climax of the ceremony, after days of song and dance, monumental posts are erected at the gravesites.

People and places

The Pukumani ceremony is unique to Tiwi. The first such ceremony was led by Tiwi ancestor Purukuparli for his baby, Jinani, who was the first Tiwi to die; as a result, today all Tiwi must follow his fate. The designs used by the artists to create their tutuni are based on family pwoja (body paint designs) and are characteristically Tiwi, typically incorporating strong graphic elements of lines and dots with blocks of colour, in red, yellow, black and white.