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





James Iyuna


1959 – 2016

Language group: Kuninjku, Arnhem region

  • Details

    Other Title
    Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent)
    Place where the work was made
    Western Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Media category
    Bark painting
    Materials used
    natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
    150.0 x 78.0 cm (irreg.)
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Mollie Gowing Acquisition fund for Contemporary Aboriginal art 2003
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Estate of James Iyuna/Copyright Agency

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    James Iyuna

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, is an iconic subject matter that is represented by all the important artists from western Arnhem Land. Kunwinjku use the term 'Rainbow' to refer to two distinct Ancestral Beings. One of these, Yingarna, is described as the original Creator Being, who is said to have androgynous qualities. In some stories, Yingarna's first-born is said to be a Rainbow Snake called Ngalyod whose sex is equally unclear. Kunwinjku tell how Yingarna, the most powerful and original creator, held all the original Ancestors or Dreaming inside her body until she was speared to let them out.

    In 'Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent' 2002 James Iyuna has completely covered the field of the bark painting with intricate cross-hatched patterns. Two outward-looking heads dominate the top of the painting representing aspects of Ngalyod's character. The serpent's intertwined bodies are delineated by thin lines of yellow ochre that have been dotted with alternate black and white dots in reference to men's body painting for the Mardayin ceremonies. Waterlily leaves are also scattered across the painting representing the wetlands that Ngalyod inhabits.

    Iyuna is one of four brothers living at Mumeka, an isolated outstation situated on the Mann River in the Arnhem Land escarpment that stretches along the southern extremity of Arnhem Land from Kakadu to Maningrida. Iyuna's other brothers are John Mawurndjul, Jimmy Njiminjuma and Bandawunga. Their father did not paint either on rock or bark. Their uncle, the prominent bark painter Peter Maralwanga, taught the brothers bark painting techniques. All four brothers have subsequently achieved fame as bark painters.

    © Aboriginal & TSI Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2003

  • Places

    Where the work was made

    Western Arnhem Land

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 3 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 5 publications