1920 - 2003
Despite mission life once severely curtailing their traditional beliefs and practices, the artists of Kalumburu today are the financial mainstay of their small remote township found at the tip of the Western Australian coast. The Karedada family (named after their totem, the butcherbird or karadada) have been instrumental in this regard. Jack and his wife Lily, as well as other family members, provided artworks for the first exhibition of Wanjina paintings in Perth during the 1970’s. In those days, a small bark Wanjina painting could sell for 20 dollars, unlike recently when a bark by Jack Karedada sold for in London for 100,000 pounds. That particular image, Namarali – The First One, shows the great Wanjina who brought the first man and woman to the earth. When Namarali died from a spear wound to his side during a great battle that is said to have shaped the rugged, western Kimberley coastline, he was buried on a raised platform and his image painted in the caves. His spiritual essence resides there and still teaches humans how to live by the sacred Law and perform the rituals of life and death. Jack Karedada’s Wanjina figures characteristically have their eyes joined or touching in the middle with a thin stroke of a nose or sometimes none at all, and no mouth. Their heads are surrounded by an impressive halo of rays. The rain making power of the ancestral Wanjinas once brought a great flood that swept away the previous landscape and society. (A myth possibly rooted in archaeological evidence from the ending of the last Ice Age). Such a catastrophe could easily occur again, we are told, if mouths are included in the image. The soft rain-like pattern inside and around Jack’s Wanjina figures brings life and fertility to the land. In the spectacular caves and rock shelves that house the original images, where young boys were taken for initiation and instruction in the responsibilities of manhood, the Wanjina are still re-touched with fingers and ground ochres by tribal elders. Their preservation has been facilitated by the transference to bark painting and the appreciation by a wider audience of these mysterious and enigmatic figures. In Michael Edols film series, Lalai Dreamtime (1972), the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle of this region is respectfully recorded, followed by the growing and destructive impact of the dominating European culture. The films were lauded by German director Werner Herzog (among other European directors) and inspired Herzog’s own filmmaking excursions to Australia. Present during the making of these films, Jack Karedada brought paintings to show Edols and the image of Namarali, complete with a human dangling from each hand, crossed intact the treacherous cultural divide. It was this painting that recently sold in at Sotheby’s London, attesting to the lasting and magnetic power of the Wanjina.
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