MCA to showcase major survey of celebrated master bark painter


Celebrated master bark painter from West Arnhem land, John Mawurndjul has worked closely in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art to present the first major survey of his body of work.

John Mawurndjul (photo credit: Rhett Hammerton)

Recognised as an influential leading contemporary artist, the exhibition: John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new will open on the 6th of July to the public and will explore several themes central to the artist’s works.

The Kurulk man, born and raised near Mumeka on the Mann River was taught how to paint by close family members including his father, Anchor Kulunba, a highly respected painter and weaver, and his uncle Peter Marralwanga and elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma. Mawurndjul began his own career painting traditional styles on bark in the late 1970’s, figurative works including Ngalyod (an ancestral Rainbow Serpent), Namarrrkon (the female lightning spirit) but then moved on to explore sites of significance in his custodial country.

From his feature in an exhibition, Mawurndjul’s work has been shown all over the world including New York, Japan, Switzerland and the Centre Georges Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villete in Paris.  The artist has also been formally recognised throughout his career winning the Bark Painting Award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory four times, as the recipient of the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award in 2003, and in 2010 was awarded an Order of Australia. This year  he received the very prestigious Red Ochre Award at the Australia Council for the Arts, National Indigenous Art Awards, for outstanding lifetime achievement in the arts.

John Mawurndjul, Ngalyod (Female rainbow serpent), 1988

Ngalyod (Female rainbow serpent), 1988

The key themes in the exhibition will explore Mardayin, the name of a ceremony which is credited as the original context for the use of cross-hatching, or rarrk, painted on bodies, now widely used in contemporary bark painting.

Mimih, rocky outcrop dwelling ethereal human-like spirit beings, who in Kuninjku lore passed  on the songs and cultural stories that are part of their cultural canon, and Ngalyod, the Kuninjku word for the Rainbow Serpent – a female generative being associated with the storms and tempestuous weather of the wet season.

Language features heavily in the presentation, with bilingual texts embedded throughout the exhibition design – from the didactics and labels available in Kuninjku, to translated texts featured in the catalogue, on the website and other exhibition materials.

Milmilngkan, 2008

MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE said: “This exhibition will be a revelation. It recognises John Mawurndjul as one of Australia’s most important artists, and his contribution to the history of art and painting. The MCA has had a long-standing relationship with the artist, and we are very proud to have collaborated with the Art Gallery of South Australia to develop this landmark exhibition.”

John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new is on display from July 6 until September 23, 2018 at the MCA and from October 26, 2018 until January 28, 2019 at AGSA, as part of the TARNANTHI Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art.

The exhibition will then tour regionally to eight locations across Australia until 2020.

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