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Portraits

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.


Portraits

Portraits of people, as the representation of their physical appearance and facial likenesses, are not part of the traditional Aboriginal artist’s repertoire. To Bininj and Yolŋu, a person’s identity —their kinship ties, totemic associations, clan group and connections to ancestors and country —is of much greater significance.

The two paintings here may be regarded as self-portraits of the artists Harry Makarrwala and Jimmy Wululu. Makarrwala belonged to the Wangurri clan. His clan design represents the patterns made by milka (mangrove worms) on a sacred log. The extensions at the top of the work mimic body painting arching over the shoulders. Wululu belonged to the Daygurrgurr clan of the Gupapuyŋu group, and his primary totem was Niwuda (honey or sugarbag), associated with the Honey Ancestor Murayana at Djilwirri in central Arnhem Land. The diamond pattern shows the bees’ hive, with cells in various stages of development, within the trunk of the tree that appears in the centre of the 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.

  • Sugarbag Dreaming
    Jimmy Wululu, Sugarbag Dreaming
  • Milka (Mangrove Worms)
    Harry Makarrwala, Milka (Mangrove Worms)

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.