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Old Masters: Australia's great bark artists

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Dawidi became the leader of ceremonies associated with the ancestral Wägilak Sisters on the death of his father, Yilkari Kitani (1891–1956). As Dawidi was still an inexperienced painter he was tutored by a senior artist, Dhawadanygulili (1900–1976). When Dawidi died, his brother Paddy Dhäthaŋu inherited his role.

The Wägilak story concerns the rules of marriage, the creation of the first monsoon and the concept of transformation. In the narrative, Wititj the Rainbow Serpent swallows the Wägilak Sisters but regurgitates them when he realises they belong to his moiety, the Dhuwa. The sequence of swallowing and regurgitation is a metaphor for transformation, as in initiation where boys enter the ceremony and emerge as men.

Paintings in the exhibition

Click on the images below to see a larger version and more information, including dimensions. Please note these images are not to scale.

All these bark paintings are part of the National Museum of Australia’s collection. © the artist or the artist’s estate, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency 2013, unless otherwise specified. These images must not be reproduced in any form without permission.