We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





John Mawurndjul


1952 –

Language group: Kuninjku, Arnhem region

Artist profile

Alternate image of Lorrkkon by John Mawurndjul
Alternate image of Lorrkkon by John Mawurndjul
Alternate image of Lorrkkon by John Mawurndjul
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Maningrida Central Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Media category
    Materials used
    natural pigments on eucalpytus tetradonta
    234.0 x 14.0 cm :

    0 - Whole, 214 cm (84 1/4")

    0 - Whole, 14 cm

    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Purchased 2004
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © John Mawurndjul, Maningrida Arts and Culture/Copyright Agency

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    Artist information
    John Mawurndjul

    Artist profile

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Lorrkkon or Hollow Log Coffins are used to inter the bones of deceased people where traditionally the log is transformed into a ritually powerful container through singing and being painted with Ancestral figures. In the documentation for 'Lorrkkon' 2003 Maningrida Arts & Culture state: "The Lorrkkon or bone pole coffin ceremony was the final ceremony in a sequence of mortuary rituals celebrated by people of Arnhem Land. This ceremony involves the placing of the deceased’s bones into a hollow log which is decorated with painted clan designs and ceremonially placed into the ground where it remains until it slowly decays over many years".

    The log is made from a termite hollowed Stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetradonta) and is decorated with totemic emblems.

    The western Arnhem Land version of the Lorrkkon ceremony involves the singing of sacred songs to the accompaniment of karlikarli, a pair of sacred boomerangs used as rhythm instruments.

    During the final evening of the ceremony dancers decorate themselves with kapok down, or today cotton wool and conduct much of the final segments of the ceremony in the secrecy of a restricted men's camp. The complete ceremony may stretch over a period of two weeks but on the last night the bones of the deceased which have been kept in a bark container, or today wrapped in cloth and kept in a suitcase, are taken out, are painted with red ochre and placed inside the hollow log. This ceremony may take place many years after the person has died.

    At first light on the final morning of the Lorrkkon ceremony, the men appear, coming out of their secret bush camp carrying the pole towards the women's camp. The two groups call out to each other using distinct ceremonial calls. The women have prepared a hole for the pole to be placed into and when it is stood upright, women in particular kinship relationships to the deceased dance around the pole in a jumping/shuffling motion. The Lorrkkon is then often covered with a tarpaulin and left to slowly decay. John Mawurndjul's 'Lorrkkon' 2003 is a secular version.

    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 surface of the log or bark. These 'abstract' 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.

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

    John Mawurndjul won the NGV's Clemenger Contemporary Art Award for 2003 and has had numerous solo exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney since 1991. His work is in many public and private collections in Australia and overseas. Mawurndjul has won several prizes including the 1999 and 2002 Bark Painting Awards at the Telstra 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, 2004

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 4 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

Other works by John Mawurndjul

See all 26 works