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





Owen Yalandja


1960 –

Language group: Kuninjku, Arnhem region

Artist profile

  • Details

    Other Title
    Yawk Yawk
    Place where the work was made
    Maningrida Central Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Media category
    Materials used
    natural pigments on wood
    285.0 cm height
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Purchased 2002
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Paddy Japaljarri Stewart/Copyright Agency

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Owen Yalandja

    Artist profile

    Works in the collection


  • About

    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

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 2 publications

Other works by Owen Yalandja