Lot 11 


Djambawa Marawili AM

109 x 49 cm
Bark painting
Bid on this piece
This piece has a reserve. 
Estimate: $5000-$7000.
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.

Notable Collections 

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

©  Environmental Defenders Office NT. 

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