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Contemporary art

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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James Iyuna


1959 - 2016

Language group

Kuninjku, Arnhem region


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


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


Artist information

James Iyuna

Works in the collection



Where the work was made
Western Arnhem Land

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Alison Harper, Art and Australia (Vol. 41, No. 4), 'Aboriginal art: aquisitions by Australia's public museums and galleries', pg. 612-614, Sydney, Jun 2004-Aug 2004, 613.

Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Home + away', pg. 1-86, Carlton, 2010, 48 (colour illus.), 279.

Hetti Perkins, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 81 (colour illus.), 222.

Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, 'Site and subject', Sydney, 2004, (colour illus.).