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Yirawala is one of the major artists in Australian art history. He played a leading role in promoting the acceptance of Aboriginal art as ‘art’ rather than simply ‘ethnographic material’. Yirawala’s impetus to paint for the public stemmed from a need to reveal his culture to non-Indigenous Australians so that it could be understood and respected. He was a gifted painter of high ritual authority, which allowed him to innovate on the art traditions of the Kuninjku people. Among his main innovations are his exquisitely rendered variations on conventional rarrk (crosshatched) clan patterns.

Although Yirawala had an extensive repertoire of subjects at his command, the majority of his work is associated with the major regional ceremonies, especially the Mardayin, which involves both Duwa and Yirridjdja moities. Themes represented in the paintings here include: Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent, wearing a feather headdress to indicate its connection to ceremony; Lumaluma the Giant Ogre, whose limbs were cut off and transformed into ritual objects; Kandakidj the Antilopine Kangaroo associated with the Wubarr and Lorrkkon ceremonies; Namanjwarre the Estuarine Crocodile; and images of sorcery.

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.

  • Yirawala, Spirit People
  • Yirawala, Mimih and Turtle
  • Birth of a Mimih
    Yirawala, Birth of a Mimih
  • Totemic Crocodile
    Yirawala, Totemic Crocodile
  • Bambil (Echidna)
    Yirawala, Bambil (Echidna)
  • Kandakidj the Antilopine Kangaroo
    Yirawala, Kandakidj the Antilopine Kangaroo
  • Two Long-Necked Turtles
    Yirawala, Two Long-Necked Turtles
  • Lumaluma the Giant Ogre,
    Yirawala, Lumaluma the Giant Ogre
  • Country
    Yirawala, Country
  • Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent
    Yirawala, Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent

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.
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