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Narritjin

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.


Narritjin

Narritjin Maymuru was a ceremonial leader of the Yirritja moiety and Maŋgalili clan, and a highly influential artist. The main theme in his paintings concerns two ancestral women, the Nyapililŋu (also known as Wurrathithi), who mourn the death of their brother, Guwak the Koel Cuckoo, at the salt lake of Djarrakpi on Cape Shield.

The Nyapililŋu are often represented by their digging sticks, wooden bowls and X-shaped breast girdles, rather than being drawn figuratively. The women are accompanied by Marrŋu the Possums, who run up and down the marrawili (native cashew or casuarina trees) spinning fur into string to create the sand dunes at Djarrakpi.

A recurring feature in Narritjin’s map-like paintings is the yiŋapuŋapu, an elliptical sand sculpture used in Yirritja mortuary ceremonies. Fish symbolising the body of the deceased are placed at the centre of the ground sculpture, while the anvil-shaped thunderhead cloud represents death. Sand crabs and maggots feed off the remains of fish in an act of cleansing. The yiŋapuŋapu at Djarrakpi connects to similar sand sculptures in Madarrpa and Dhalwaŋu clan lands on Blue Mud Bay.

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.

  • Guwak ga Marrŋu (Night-Bird and Possum)
    Narritjin Maymuru, Guwak ga Marrŋu (Night-Bird and Possum)
  • Creation Stories of the Maŋgalili Clan
    Narritjin Maymuru, Creation Stories of the Maŋgalili Clan
  • The Marrawili Tree
    Narritjin Maymuru, The MarrawilIi Tree
  • Djirrididi ga Damala
    Narritjin Maymuru, Djirrididi ga Damala
  • Yiŋapuŋapu at Djarrakpi
    Narritjin Maymuru, Yiŋapuŋapu at Djarrakpi
  • Sacred Ceremonial Ground at Gunuŋuwuy
    Narritjin Maymuru, Sacred Ceremonial Ground at Gunuŋuwuy
  • Yiŋapuŋapu
    Narritjin Maymuru, Yiŋapuŋapu
  • The Two Wurrathithi with Ceremonial Digging Stick
    Narritjin Maymuru, The Two Wurrathithi with Ceremonial Digging Stick
  • Wurrathithi Digging Stick
    Narritjin Maymuru, Wurrathithi Digging Stick
  • Djarrakpi: The Lightning Snake Passes Through
    Narritjin Maymuru, Djarrakpi: The Lightning Snake Passes Through
  • Gunyan White Sand Crab
    Narritjin Maymuru, Gunyan White Sand Crab
  • Fight between Crocodile-Man and Stingray-Man
    Narritjin Maymuru, Fight between Crocodile-Man and Stingray-Man
  • Coat of Arms
    Narritjin Maymuru, Coat of Arms
  • Yiŋapuŋapu
    Banapana Maymuru, Yiŋapuŋapu
  • Storm
    Bokarra Maymuru, Storm

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.