Ngukurr Art Centre, NT Cat No. GR4 and No. GR16
Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Qld
Private Collection, Qld
Cooee Art, NSW
This seminal work was executed by Munduwalawala in the first year of his art production. It comprises two separate paintings—respectively catalogued (verso) as GR4 (top half) and GR16 (bottom half), which would indicate they were the fourth and sixteenth paintings the artist completed. The upper and lower paintings depict separate stories in comic-strip format, with the narratives seeming to flow from line to line; although the directions and sequences are not clearly apparent.
The two upper lines of the top picture, which is painted in solid primary colours on a negative ground, depict estuarine and sea creatures, both large and small, including: crocodile, turtle, dugong, sea snake, starfish, crab, shell-fish, saw fish, stingray, squid and a variety of pelagic fish. At right in the painting’s bottom line, men fish from a boat. On the adjacent shore, a man with modern and customary weapons is accompanied by a woman and two dogs. They are separated by wallabies, an echidna and two dugong from their quarry who are entrapped in the fishers’ net.
The lower picture is painted in more muted tones than the upper one. Comprising four lines of narrative, this picture depicts a wide variety of sea, river and land animals and their hunters. The uppermost line depicts what appears to be a meandering shoreline, with various hunting (and possibly ceremonial) implements sitting on each promontory, as if waiting for use. The second line introduces a hunter teaching his son ‘tricks of the trade’. The pair are surrounded by a plenitude of game, including wallaby, crab, turtle, squid, dugong and various fish. However, lurking menacingly is a crocodile to which they might become prey. The third line features fish, crab, a turtle caught in a fishing net, a charming vignette of a crocodile with a bird on its head and, slightly out of context, a cassowary. The bottom line of this picture features a row of hands within an abstract zig-zag pattern, most likely depicting rock art from a nearby sacred site.
Interestingly, the painting has a number of red wine stains and a clear bottle mark in its bottom right quadrant. These attest to the painting’s previous role as a tablecloth. At a later time, the painting was used as a curtain and the tiny clip marks are seen on its upper border. Maybe it is Indigenous Australia’s version of the Shroud of Turin.
This painting is closely associated in style and content with a slightly larger, later and more typical painting entitled Limmen Bight Country 1987.