John Mawurndjul AM (born 1952, Kubukkan near Marrkolidjban, western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia) is celebrated for his mastery of rarrk (fine-painted cross-hatching), a tradition shared by generations of Kuninjku artists. This exhibition of bark paintings and sculptures tells the stories of Kuninjku culture and the significant locations surrounding the artist’s home in western Arnhem Land.
John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new reunites works of art from national and international collections made across a 40-year period. The artist has led the development of this exhibition, which describes in Kuninjku (and English) his places of special cultural significance known as kunred, as well as the sacred places and spirits – or Djang – that resurface time and time again in his art-making. We also encounter the animals and spirit beings that populate these locations including female water spirits (yawkyawk), rainbow serpents (ngalyod) and mischievous mimih spirits.
The places around western Arnhem Land that recur in his work include spring-fed creeks such as Milmilngkan, sandstone escarpments including Ngandarrayo and the white clay quarries of the seasonal creek called Kudjarnngal. The materials used by Mawurndjul to make his art come from these places: the stringy bark eucalypt skins that form the body of his bark paintings; the white clay, yellow and red ochres mined from sacred deposits that become paint; and the manyilk, the paint brush sedge that makes the single strand brushes that the artist uses to make cross hatching or rarrk.
The Mardayin ceremony, comprising rituals of a sacred nature, and informing so much of Mawurndjul’s work, remains a timeless narrative thread that links the past to the present, and sheds light on Kuninjku future – embracing the old and the new.
This exhibition was developed and co-presented by the MCA and the Art Gallery of South Australia, in association with Maningrida Arts & Culture.