John Mawurndjul

John Mawurndjul

Biography

“My head is full up with ideas.”  – John Mawurndjul

A Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor, John Mawurndjul is one of the leading Aboriginal Australian artists, receiving worldwide recognition for his work. He was born in 1952 near Mumeka, an important camping site for members of the Kurulk clan on the Mann River some 50 kms south of Maningrida. He grew up at Mumeka and surrounding Tomkinson, Liverpool and Mann Rivers seasonal camps with only sporadic contacts with balandas (non-aboriginal people). In the late 1970s he was tutored in painting by his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and uncle Peter Marralwanga, who showed him how to use rarrk, cross-hatching in new and innovative ways. He started to paint on small barks generally depicting natural species and mythological beings such as Ngalyod the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites (djang) in all western Arnhem Land. During the late 1980s he started to produce large and more elaborate paintings with complex arrangements of figures. His work rapidly captured the attention of art critics and in 1988 he won the Rothmans Foundation Award for best painting in traditional media at NAAA and the first prize at the Barunga Festival Art exhibition. In 1991 Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery held his first solo show. During the 1990s his work was included in major overseas exhibitions dealing with Aboriginal Australian art such as Dreamings in New York (1988), Crossroads in Japan (1992), Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Germany and UK (1993-94) and In the heart of Arnhem Land in France (2001).

Mawurndjul has been a major influence on contemporary Kuninjku artists who paint in his style and tutoring his wife Kay Lindjuwanga and daughter Anna Wurrkidj now accomplished painters. He has created a whole school of artists and has led an exciting and contemporary Australian art movement. In 2000, his work was featured at the Sydney Biennale and in 1999, 2002 and 2016 he won the bark painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. He won the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Prize in 2003. In 2004, his work was included in the landmark survey exhibition Crossing Country, the Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land held at the AGNSW. In 2005, Mawurndjul was honoured with a major retrospective of his work at the Musee Jean Tinguely in Basel Switzerland. In 2006 he has worked on a large scale commission for the new Musee du Quai Branly. His work features in the bookshop and is integral part of the architecture.

Further Developments

John Mawurndjul’s work has always dealt with themes of spirituality, mythology and life cycle. Ngalyod has remained a central theme in his work but over last 20 years he has concentrated on more abstract works associated with the Mardayin ceremony, a now rarely performed sacred ceremony with clan identity and mortuary themes. 

It was an early secret cult ceremony into which John Mawurndjul was initiated and has left a lasting impression on Mawurndjul. His paintings depict the ceremony at particular sites located on his clan estate, including elements of the ancestral landscapes and the stories which are not in the public domain. He now often depicts in his work a large billabong at Milmilngkan which is a very important Rainbow serpent sacred site. Much of his paintings are based on the mythology of sites in this area of the Kurulk clan estate where he lives with his family. Visually, in Mawurndjul’s recent works, fine cross-hatching now dominates the entire surface of the painting and encrypts various secret meanings. The direction of the cross-hatching changes constantly and unpredictably. In innovating both in the treatment of rarrk and in the iconic representation of the Mardayin themes, he expresses in a dynamic way his strong connections to the land and ancestral power. 

His sculptural work also incorporates Mardayin themes. He mainly concentrates on the representation of Mimih  figures or Duwa moiety female creator beings called Buluwana. They comprise, in their body decorations, elements borrowed from Mardayin body designs and painted wooden sculptures used in the ceremony. He was one of the first Kuninjku artists to use rarrk instead of dotting patterns on his Mimih carvings, making again the path for a new trend in Kuninjku art.

Untitled 2016
John Mawurndjul
Stringybark (Eucalyptus Tetradonta) with Ochre Pigment and PVA Fixative
210x77cm
Image courtesy of MAC and the artists

Resources

Luke Taylor, Enthusiastic spirit: John Mawurndjul at Tarrawarra, The Conversation,
May 5, 2015

Languages

Kuninjku

From

Milmilngkan

Community

Maningrida : NT

Outstation

Milmilngkan

Moiety

Duwa

Subsection

Bulung

Date of birth

1951-12-31

Clan

Kurulk

Artworks


Past Exhibitions

Solo

  • 2011
    Maningrida, Annadale Galleries, Sydney, Australia
  • 2010
    John Mawurndjul, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2009
    John Mawurndjul Survey Show, The Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 2009
    John Mawurndjul, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2007
    John Mawurndjul, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2007
    Mapping Djang, Cornice Art Fair, Venice, Italy
  • 2006
    Permanent installation at Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, France, Solo show, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2005
    Rarrk - John Mawurndjul: Journey through time in Northern Australia, Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland
  • 2005
    Rarrk - John Mawurndjul: Journey through time in Northern Australia, Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland
  • 2004
    John Mawurndjul, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2002
    Kabarlekidyo to Milmilngkan, John Mawurndjuls country, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
  • 1999
    John Marwurndjul, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1998
    John Mawurndjul: recent works from Milmilngkan, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1995
    Solo, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1994
    John Mawurndjul, Savode Gallery, Brisbane, QLD
  • 1993
    John Mawurndjul, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, VIC

Group

  • 2016
    2016 NATSIAA, Winner of Telstra Bark Painting Award
  • 2015
    Our spirits lie in the water, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
  • 2015
    Earth and Sky - John Mawurndjul and Gulumbu Yunupingu, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, VIC
  • 2015
    MCA Collection: Luminous, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
  • 2012
    Stock Jewels, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, Australia
  • 2012
    Volume One: MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
  • 2011
    Contemporary Spirit, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, Australia
  • 2011
    The Dreaming Changes Shape, Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2011
    Art and Soul Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
  • 2011
    Figuring the Earth, Castlemaine Market Building, Australia
  • 2011
    Dawning, Art Atrium Gallery, Bondi, Australia
  • 2010
    The Dreamers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
  • 2010
    Aboriginal Art Today!, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 2010
    Best of Maningrida, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, Australia
  • 2010
    Rarrk 2010, Aboriginal And Pacific Art Gallery
  • 2009
    Beautiful Beasts, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 2009
    Ochre - A Study in Materiality, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA
  • 2009
    Recent Works by Maningrida, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2008
    Maningrida Art, Chapman Gallery, Canberra
  • 2008
    Maningrida Survey, Short Street Gallery, Broome, WA
  • 2008
    Palya Art at Mary Place, Mary Place, Sydney, NSW
  • 2008
    Gifted: New to the Griffith Uni Art Collection, Griffith University, QLD
  • 2008
    Gungura - The Spiraling Wind, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2008
    African Muse, Ecorces recentes de Maningrida, Galerie Luc Bertier, Paris, France
  • 2007
    Spirit in Variation Part II, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2007
    Spirit in Variation, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2007
    New Works, Chapman Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 2007
    rarrk, Bargehouse Gallery, London, UK
  • 2007
    After the Wet, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin, NT
  • 2007
    Culture Warriors, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 2006
    Dream Tracks, Aboriginal art of Arnhem Land, La Fontaine Centre of Contemporay Art, Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
  • 2006
    Our home: CDU Art Collection, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    A survey show from Maningrida, Raft artspace, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    New Print, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    Sculptures from Maningrida, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2006
    Maningrida, Short Stree Gallery, Broome, WA
  • 2006
    Australian Aboriginal Art 2006/2007, John Gordon Gallery, Coffs Harbour, NSW
  • 2006
    Proof Contemporary Australian Printmaking, NGV, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2006
    Mumeka to Milmilngkan, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 2006
    Peintures sur ecorce de Maningrida, African Muse Gallery, Paris, France
  • 2006
    Rarrk: A Preview, Contemporary Art from Western Arnhem Land, Josh Lilley Fine Art, London, UK
  • 2005
    Lorrkons and Spirit Figures, Aboriginal & Pacific Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 2005
    Aboriginal Vision in Contemporary Australian Art, Wright exhibition space, Seattle, USA
  • 2005
    Paris-Djinkarr-Milmilngkan, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin, NT
  • 2005
    New works from Maningrida, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, UK
  • 2005
    Rarrk: flowing on from crossing country, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2004
    Maningrida Burial Poles, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, UK
  • 2004
    Crossing Country - The alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art, AGNSW, Sydney, NSW
  • 2004
    New Etchings from Mimilngkan, Aboriginal & Pacific Arts, Sydney, NSW
  • 2004
    Maningrida Print Show, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin, NT
  • 2004
    Kokok - Older brothers from the Kurulk clan, Aboriginal & Pacific Art Gallery, Sydney NSW
  • 2004
    Hollow Logs from Maningrida, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2003
    Mythological Beings from Maningrida, Hogarth Galleris, Sydney, NSW
  • 2003
    Moon, one icon, many stories, Arthouse Gallery, Sydney, NSW
  • 2003
    Works on Paper, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2003
    The Visit, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2003
    Maningrida Threads, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 2002
    19th Telstra National & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
  • 2002
    East + West, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2002
    Kuninjku show, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, Uk, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London, UK
  • 2001
    18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 2001
    In the Heart of Arnhem Land. Myth and the making of contemporary Aboriginal art, Musée del l’Hôtel-Dieu, Mantes-la-Jolie, France
  • 2001
    Maningrida Arts & Culture: Unpacked, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 2001
    Outside in: Research Engagements with Arnhem Land Art, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT
  • 2001
    Arnhem Land Carvings and Bark Paintings, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2000
    Transitions: 17 years of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; touring nationwide: Tandanya, Adelaide, SA; Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 2000
    Biennale Of Sydney 2000, Biennale Of Sydney, various venues at various location, NSW
  • 2000
    Aboriginal Art in Modern Worlds, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 2000
    Maningrida, Framed Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 2000
    Aboriginal bark paintings, sculptures & hollow logs, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1999
    The Memorial : a masterpiece of Aboriginal art, Musée Olympique, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 1999
    Fighting for Culture, Culture Indigenart, Perth, WA
  • 1999
    16th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 1999
    The Art of Fibre Spiral, Arm Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 1999
    Spinifex Runner : a collection of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fibre art., Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery, Campbelltown, NSW; touring regional centres
  • 1999
    Aboriginal Art in Modern Worlds, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT, Touring to State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • 1999
    My Country: Australische Aboriginal Kunst, Brandweer Kazerne, Utrecht, Netherlands
  • 1998
    Sixth Australian Contemporary Art Fair, Royal exhibition Building, Melbourne, VIC (Annandale Gallery)
  • 1998
    A material thing : objects from the collection, Art Gallery NSW, Sydney, NSW
  • 1997
    Metamorphosis, Gallery Pizzi at Venice Biennale Palazzo Papadopoli, Venice, Italy
  • 1997
    Mawurndjul & Bulunbulun, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1996
    Marking Our Times, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 1996
    Eye of the Storm, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 1996
    The Language of Place, Framed Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 1996
    Dreaming: Aboriginal Art from Australia, Galerie Kouwenhoven, Delft, Netherlands
  • 1995
    12th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 1995
    Stories My Parents Sang, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, NT
  • 1994
    Gemaltes Land: Kunst der Aborigines aus Arnhem Land Australien, Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
  • 1994
    Maningrida Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 1994
    Power of the Land: Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1994
    Art of the Rainbow Snake, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1993
    The Tenth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 1993
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Parliament House Art Collection, ACT
  • 1993
    Aratjara: Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
  • 1992
    The Ninth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 1992
    Crossroads - Towards a New Reality: Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan
  • 1991
    Canvas and Bark, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, SA
  • 1991
    The Speaking Land and Sea, The Speaking Land and Sea Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, NSW
  • 1991
    Flash Pictures, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 1990
    Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1990 From Australia, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Scotland; toured to Swansea and Manchester, UK
  • 1990
    Keepers of the Secret: Aboriginal Art from Arnhemland, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA
  • 1990
    Lete Australien, Montpellier Musée Fabre Gallery, Montpellier, France
  • 1990
    Spirit in Land Bark Paintings from Arnhem Land, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1990
    Painted Ship, Painted Oceans, S. H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, NSW
  • 1989
    The Sixth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 1989
    Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 1989
    Kunwinjku, Deutscher Gertrude Street, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1989
    Magiciens de la Terre, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
  • 1989
    Recent Work from Maningrida and Ramingining, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, NSW
  • 1988
    Gunwinggu Artists, Beaufort Convention Centre, Darwin, NT
  • 1988
    Dreamings: the art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries, New York, USA
  • 1986
    The Art of the First Australians, Kobe City Museum, Japan
  • 1982
    Aboriginal Art at the Top, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT

Collections

  • Aimee Proost Private Collection, Queensland, Australia
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
  • Artbank, Sydney, Australia
  • Djomi Museum, Maningrida, Australia
  • Kluge Collection, Morven Estate, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
  • Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Maningrida Collection, Sydney, Australia
  • National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia
  • Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra, Australia
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia
  • South Australian Museum, Adelaide, Australia
  • The Holmes á Court Collection, Perth, Australia
  • Walonia Aboriginal Art, The Netherlands
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
  • Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, Australia
  • Laverty Collection, Sydney, Australia
  • Charles Darwin University Art Collection, Darwin, Australia
  • Macquarie Bank Art Collection, Australia
  • British Museum, UK
  • Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands
  • Musee de Quai Branly, Paris, France
  • Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany
  • Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
  • Museum der Kultren, Basel, Switzerland
  • Sammlung Esl, Klosternenburg, Austria
  • The Laverty Collection, Private Collection, Sydney, Australia
  • The Kaplan-Lein Collection, Private Collection, United States of America
  • Wesfarmers Collection, Perth, Australia