Djambawa Marawili AM
109 x 49 cm
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This piece has a reserve.
About the Artist
Djambawa Marawili is an artist who has experienced mainstream success but for whom the production of art is a small part of a much bigger picture. In north-east Arnhem Land, Djambawa serves as a ceremonial leader of the Madarrpa clan; as an administrator of several mainstream Yolŋu organisations; as the leader of a 200-strong remote homeland community; and as a family man with three wives, and many children and grand-children. Djambawa was involved in the production of the Barunga Statement (1988), which led to Bob Hawke’s promise of a treaty; the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody; and the formation of ATSIC. In 1997, Djambawa was one of the elders at Timber Creek who burned the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan. He coordinated the Federal Court Sea claim in 2004, which eventuated in the High Court’s determination in the 2008 Blue Mud Bay case that Yolŋu own the land between high and low water mark. In recent years he has been very successful in advocating for infrastructure and staffing for education in his and other homelands. This included a televised demonstration against the NT Government’s Homelands policy at the anniversary of the Sea Rights victory at Yilpara in 2009. He is a caretaker for the spiritual well-being of his own and other related clans, and an activist and administrator in the interface between non-Aboriginal people and the Yolŋu (Aboriginal) people of North East Arnhem Land.
In 1996, Djambawa won the Best Bark Painting Prize Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art award. He is represented in most major Australian institutional collections as well as several important overseas public and private collections. In addition to sculpture and bark painting, this senior artist has also produced linocut images and notably the first screenprint image for the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Printspace in 1996. He has worked as a Director and Chairperson of the Association of Northern and Kimberley Aboriginal Artists Association (ANKAA) from 1997, and Chairperson of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre. In 2004, he was appointed to the Australia Council ATSIA Board. Other highlights of Djambawa’s artistic career include Buwayak-Invisibility (2003) and his solo Source of Fire (2005) shows at Annandale Galleries; The Wukidi Installation at The Supreme Court of the NT; his solo show at the Sydney Biennale in 2006 and the one man show to launch the 2006 Asia Pacific Triennial and the new Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane in the same year. In 2009 he opened the 3rd Moscow Biennale in Russia. He also opened the exhibition Larrakitj featuring 110 memorial poles from the Kerry Stokes Collection at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2009. This show featured in the Sydney Biennale in 2010 at the MCA.
Djambawa’s artistic influence since the mid 1990’s has been monumental. As well as pioneering a path and an aesthetic for other artists he has inspired a new generation of ‘Young Guns’ through example, encouragement and direct mentorship. A whole generation of artists took inspiration from his work to produce new aesthetics that were at once visually dynamic and spiritually powerful. Amongst the notable artists who acknowledge their debt to Djambawa are his kinsmen Wanyubi Marika, Wukun Wanambi, Yilpirr Wanambi and Gunybi Ganambarr.
In 2010 Djambawa was awarded an Australia Medal for his services to the arts, homelands and sea rights. He was also accorded the honour of being appointed as a judge of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. In this year he also hosted a groundbreaking project between 4 prominent non-Yolŋu artists (Fiona Hall, Judy Watson, Jorg Schmeisser and John Wolesley) at his homeland in Yilpara. The resultant exhibition Djalkiri was shown in Darwin and Yirrkala before touring nationally. During his ascent to leadership in the mainstream world as a leader in land and sea rights, arts administration, homeland policy and general Indigenous governance, Djambawa also became increasingly important ceremonially as a Yolŋu leader.
In 2013 he was chosen as a member of the Prime Minister’s 12 person Indigenous Advisory Council. In 2015 he was invited by Carolyn Christov-Bakagiev to play a role in the Istanbul Biennale. His art was shown with seminal Yirrkala political art and moved Bakagiev to declare that perhaps this region provides the first activist art.
About the Work
Djambawa explains the elements of his painting, which incorporates themes of gurtha (fire) and water and describes the ancestral events in which Bäru, the crocodile, plays a central role.The miny’tji (design) is a Madarrpa clan design representing both saltwater and fire. Ashes from the fire are depicted in black.‘Bäru was [camped] at a fire and his wife, Dhamiliŋu, went hunting and got Mänyduŋ, snails. Bäru was sleeping and his wife was eating the snails and throwing the shells on his head. Bäru got wild and threw his wife into the fire.It was by being burned by the fire following this argument, that Bäru is said to have been scarred badly resulting in the characteristic skin of the crocodile. Bäru , as an important ancestor of the Yirritja moiety, played a role in naming areas of land belonging to various Yirritja clans. ‘Bäru said, “My tribe will be ....”, and gave names to all the places and people. He also went to Maningrida - they have a story for him there but they have different language and different designs. They call themselves Madarrpa people. At Roper there are also people who call themselves Madarrpa. But here, in Bäniyala, I am of the salt water Madarrpa tribe - we have our own language and songs.’Hidden in the fiery maelstrom is the following adjunct to the story:
Two Ancestral beings Burrak and Garramatji of the ancient Yirritja took to sea in their dugout canoe from the Blue Mud Bay
coastline from Yathikpa to hunt. They prepared their objects of harpooning paraphernalia, manifestations of which are used today in secret ceremony. On seeing Dugong they pursued it. In this area was a submerged rock surrounded by turbulent and dangerous water and it was here that the Dugong took shelter to escape the hunters. The action of the flung harpoon towards the Dugong, hence the rock, enraged the powers that be, causing these dangerous waters to boil from sacred fires from underneath. The canoe capsized, drowning the Ancestral Hunters that were washed to shore with their canoe and hunting paraphernalia. The harpoon changing to the hollow log used for, in this case the first mortuary ceremony for the Madarrpa.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney NSW
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth WA
Artbank, Sydney NSW
Australian Capital Equity Collection, Perth WA
British Open University Art Museum, Milton Keynes UK
Crafts Museum, New Delhi, India
Holmes a Court Collection
JW Kluge Collection, Virginia USA
Kerry Stokes Larrakitj Collection, WA
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ACT
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne VIC
National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney NSW
President of India Art Collection, New Delhi, India
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane QLD
Queensland University of Technology Art Collection, Brisbane QLD
Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW
Woodside Energy Ltd. Art Collection