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John Mawurndjul

Namarnkon - Female Lightning Spirit - c.1980

natural earth pigment on stringy bark
90 x 25 cm
Price Realised: $7,000.00

MP #305


Maningrida Arts and Culture, NT Cat No. G228/ORR
Private Collection, FNQ

Purchased directly from the Maningrida art coordinator Charlie Godjuwa in the early 1980s. Incribed MARWUNDJAL verso.

Mawurndjul painted collaboratively with his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma until the late 1970s. At this early stage in his paintings on canvas career the primary subject matter for his work was the mythology of the surrounding environment at Milmilngkan. From the time that this paintings on canvas was created and throughout the early to mid 1980s, Mawurndjul painted small barks of Ngalyod (the Rainbow Serpent); other spirit beings including Namarrkon (the Lightning Spirit); and various depictions of the local natural species, such as fish, bandicoots and possum, with precise attention to anatomical detail. 

Mawurndjul’s work at this time reflected his place as an heir to the long paintings on canvas tradition of Kuninjku artists who had created magnificent bark paintings on canvass over the previous decade. Though artists like Yirawala, Peter Marralwanga and Mick Kubarkku incorporated rarrk designs into their art this ‘design element’ remained secondary to the figurative elements, and rarely left the interior of the figure, leaving a plain background. This came in time to be thought of as the quintessential Central and Western Arnhem Land style.

Mawurndjul, in contrast, increasingly allowed the rarrk designs to dominate, filling both the interior and surrounding space of his figures and by 1988 he had abandoned figurative iconography all but completely.

In this early paintings on canvas Mawurndjul has depicted the Lightning Spirit in its female manifestation. The Lightning spirit Namarrkon lives above the clouds and controls the electrical storms, associated with the monsoon weather in the Top End of the Northern Territory in Australia.

The Lightning spirit also makes sure aspects of tribal law are not broken, otherwise it strikes fearlessly with bolts of thunder and lightning as punishment.