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Paddy Fordham Wainburranga

Balangjalngalan, Spirit Figure - 1989

natural earth pigments on carved hardwood (but-but)
294.0 x 16.0 x 14.0
Price Realised: $4,636.00

MP #773


Mimi Arts and Crafts, Katherine, NT
Cooee Art Gallery, NSW
Private Collection, NSW

During his lifetime, renowned artist, dancer, didgeridoo player, and storyteller Paddy Fordham Wainburranga embodied the living history of the people of Australia’s far north. He began working as a stockman while still a young man on many of the stations throughout the Top End. It was not until the 1970s when, settled at Maningrida, he began to carve and paint for the nascent arts and crafts centre.


A favourite theme was depictions and stories associated with Balangjalnagalan. These ambiguous beings are responsible for seeing that things in the human world go in accordance with the will of the spirits. They are said to be half-human, half-spirit, with the power to transform at will. They are wise and provide guidance and healing, often appearing in the form of animals or birds, but generally living as humans, and sometimes taking the role of witch doctor. However, they have been known to abduct unattended babies or straying children as a means of recruiting new members and can become quite strict when customs are not faithfully observed. So, like all other-worldly powers, they have a frightening aspect and must be heeded and treated with great respect. They are spirits that are woven into the kinship system as inextricable links in a holistic cosmology.

Having learned traditional bark painting from his father and being steeped in ancient stories, Paddy Fordham's innovative talent won him quick recognition. In time, he became the senior elder of the Rembarrnga people and divided his time between making artworks and leading the Rembarrnga in important ceremonial activities throughout the Northern Territory.