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Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: Baratjala 2019


  • No.:RK1710
  • Medium:Natural Ochres on Bark
  • Size:129 × 65 cm
  • Year:2019
  • Region:Arnhem Land (East)
  • Art Centre:Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka
  • Status:

Noŋgirrŋa started life as one of the numerous children of Mundukul the Madarrpa warrior (c.1890 - c.1950). He was a famed leader/warrior with uncountable wives of the Marrakulu, Dhudi Djapu and Galpu clans. She was a child of one of the four Galpu wives, Bulungguwuy. Life was a bountiful but disciplined subsistence amongst a working family group of closely related mothers, brothers and sisters. This was over fifty people! She was born on the beach at Darrpirra north of Cape Shield on the oceanside. But they were Wakir’ – camping – moving around. They went to Yilpara. They went to Djarrakpi. But their specialplace was Guwaŋarripa (Woodah Island). They were a fleet of canoes travelling all the way to Groote Island and back and forth from the mainland. They lived in this rich place. Their special spot on the mainland was Baratjula. A place to which she only returned after the creation of these paintings.

Baratjala is a Madarrpa clan estate adjacent to Cape Shield where the artist camped with her father and his many wives as a young girl. It is of the essence of Madarrpa but does not hold the high order sites that Yathikpa does. She lived nomadically as part of a clan group with a flotilla of canoes between Groote Eyelandt and the mainland. Her father’s name was Mundukul (Lightning Snake) and this is also the name of the serpent (also known as Water Python, Burrut’tji or Liasis Fuscus), which lives deep beneath the sea here. These are cyclonic, crocodile infested waters with huge tides and ripping currents and she is part of them.

In late 2017 she made an etching with Basil Hall at Yirrkala which used a brilliant fuschia as a component colour. In early 2018 Noŋgirrŋa's friend, kin sister and gallerist Beverly Knight independently queried whether Noŋgirrŋa wanted to respond to another Alcaston artist, Karen Mills recent work which also included fuchsia. This coincidence seemed to suggest that it was a good time to add this colour to the palette when painting on these recycled print proof papers. And so in the early months of 2018 Buku-Larrŋgay went pink big time. She painted a suite of paper works incorporating bright pink which were featured in her solo show at Alcaston and also the major retrospective at AGNSW 'From my heart and mind.' Also featured in both these shows were large barks which were in a pinkish hue drawn from mixing red and white ochres. She travelled to Sydney for the opening of her retrospective on the 17th November 2018. In the days just before she travelled she made a radical move in the history of Buku. She used a pigment obtained from discarded Magenta print toner. Surprisingly at least a cup full of toner was released after the cartridge was smashed with a hammer. This was compliant with the long standing edict that artists painting sacred designs should follow; "If you paint the land use the land". This is because Gunybi Ganambarr's practice of using industrial materials dumped on the land had been expressly accepted by

the elders. She went on to paint a series of works which incorporated this magenta colour sourced from the 'empty' toner cartridges consumed by the art centre's printer which would normally have been thrown out.

Some of the designs show the rock set in deep water between the electric ‘curse’ that the snake spits into the sky in the form of lightning, and the spray of the sea trying to shift the immovable rock foundation of the Madarrpa. Sometimes depicted are duŋgurŋaniny, barnacles that grow on the rock. Yurr’yunna is the word used to describe the rough waves overtopping the rock and the spray flying into the sky. It is said that the serpents ‘spit’ lightning- ‘guykthun’. The extended meaning of ‘guykthun' though includes “make something sacred or taboo through saying magic words’. In our language we ‘swear’ an ‘oath’ which sanctifies the speech but both words can also mean to utter profanities. We also understand that ‘curse’ can mean bad language but also a spell. The Top End has one of the world’s greatest number of lightning strikes at this time of year. These works show the sanctifying words being spat across the sky in lightning form. The lightning’s sacred power hits the seaspray rising from where it has just smashed into the rock. The energies captured in this painting are almost a match for those in the real life of a Top End Wet Season.

Some of them show the maypal which adheres to this rock. Mekawu (or simple rock oysters). Some are the duŋgurrŋaniny (barnacles) which she says nibble on the feet of the oyster gatherers whilst they perch atop these rocks.

This journey from the sacred to the descriptive shifts in these works. She has reduced the Law to its elements unclothed in sacred design. Her identity cannot be separated from her art and so although she disavows any sacred intent the echo of miny’tji persists.

Bark paintings do adapt to room temperature and humidity. Tiny hair cracks are inherent in the nature of the material.
Special provisions apply to this artwork. Reproductions of the artwork and its story in part or in whole in any form require the permission of the artist. We are only too happy to be of assistance in this matter.