Owen Yalandja's 'Yawkyawk' figure is a particularly beautiful example of this genre from central Arnhem Land. The slight curvature of the wood accentuates the elongated body of the figure while the fine detail of the painted surface is intended to represent the scales of the 'mermaid's' tail.
For many years Owen Yalandja's father Crusoe Kuningbal was the exclusive carver of mimih figures. They derive from much earlier sculptures made from paperbark and bush string. Like his father's Mimi figures, Yalandja's 'Yawkyawk' figure is an adaptation or innovation of a traditional cultural theme and Yalandja has elaborated the tradition once again by greatly increasing the size of the figure.
In Kunwinjku belief the creator of the Liverpool River region in Yingarna, the Rainbow Serpent. Yingarna's first born was a son, Ngalyod, also a Rainbow Serpent. Yingarna's second born was a daughter, Ngalkunburruyaymi (also know as Yawkyawk), a freshwater spirit resembling a mermaid in the western tradition although significant distinctions exist. Yawkyawks emerge from the water from time to time and sun themselves on rocks drying their long hair. Yawkyawks can travel across land causing people to be wary in the vicinity of their sites. They are also strongly associated with fertility.
© Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2002
natural pigments on wood
285.0 cm height
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
© Paddy Japaljarri Stewart. Licensed by Viscopy, Australia
Where the work was made
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Crossing country: the alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2004–12 Dec 2004
Sentient lands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Jun 2016–08 Oct 2017
Referenced in 2 publications
Unknown, Crossing country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art, Sydney, 2004, 202 (colour illus.), 231.
Unknown, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 2002, 'Year in review', pg. 8-25, Sydney, 2002, 9.