George Milpurrurru and his kinsman John Bulunbulun’s traditional lands lie in and around the Arafura Wetlands. It is a landscape teeming with wildlife and lush with vegetation. Ancestral flying foxes (fruit bats) are the custodians of Ŋlyindi, a major sacred site in the region. Milpurrurru has depicted the creatures in organised rows, and drawn them to resemble ceremonial objects such as the staffs in Raŋga (Ritual Objects) for the Yirritja Flying Fox Dance. The regularity of these compositions suggests the rhythms of ceremonial dance.
Shown in the centre of Ganalbiŋu Funerary Rites is a vertical log-coffin to house the bones of a deceased clan member. The bone burial ceremony marks the safe arrival of the soul to the ancestral realm and the end of the mourning period. All the elements in the painting — the coffin, the ritual objects and the magpie goose and waterlily totems — are decorated in the same clan pattern as the background, allowing them to take on an aura of invisibility to evoke the presence of sacred ancestral forces within the ceremony — and within the painting itself. Binyinyuwuy’s painting is another version of the same ceremony.
Milpurrurru’s Galawu (Stringybark House) depicts two types of bark hut: the curved shelters built on the ground in the dry season, and the platform shelter on stilts for the wet season. ‘Galawu’ also describes the large sheets of bark used for painting.
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.
George Milpurrurru, Galawu (Stringybark House)
George Milpurrurru, Yirritja Ŋärra Flying Fox Dance
George Milpurrurru, Raŋga (Ritual Objects) for the Yirritja Flying Fox Dance
George Milpurrurru, Ganalbiŋu Funerary Rites
Binyinyuwuy, Djalumbu (Hollow-Log Coffin) Mortuary Ceremony
John Bulunbulun, Creatures of the Arafura Swamp
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.