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Marika family

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.


Marika family

Mawalan Marika was the leader of the Rirratjiŋu clan and the head of an artistic dynasty that included his brother Mathaman and his son Wandjuk. The main ancestors of the Rirratjiŋu are the Djan’kawu, referred to in Wandjuk’s The Sacred Waterhole at Bilapinya, which features the Union-Jack-like design showing the paths the ancestors took as they created this freshwater spring.

Mathaman paints another set of Dhuwa ancestors, the Wäwilak Sisters. In the upper panel of Rirratjiŋu Mortuary Ceremony the rays of the sun capture dust rising from the ground as people dance in the ceremony depicted below. Here, the spirit of the deceased is taught how to make paddles and is given a canoe to row to Dhambaliya (Bremer Island) on its way to the ancestral realm.

In Mawalan’s painting, the Milky Way is regarded as a river in the sky teeming with constellations in the form of totemic species. Wandjuk’s The Tail of the Whale Daymirri features the steel-bladed knives used to butcher a whale whose tail became a symbol of the thunderhead clouds of the early wet season. The anvil-shaped yellow cloud pouring rain appears upside-down in this orientation because the artist turned the bark around as he painted the picture.

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.