Buy collectable artworks backed by comprehensive market information and impeccable provenance

Jarinyanu David Downs

Untitled - Wakaya Ceremony - c.1983

natural earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on composition board
119.0 x 120.0 cm
Price Realised: $24,000.00

LOT #31


Emerald Hill Gallery, Vic
Private Collection, Vic
Private Collection, USA


Sotheby's, Aboriginal Art, Melbourne, 31/10/2006, Lot No. 42


Cf. For a related paintings on canvas by the artist see Jilji (sandhill country), 1983, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, illustrated in Ryan J. and Akerman K. (eds), Images of Power: Aboriginal art of the Kimberley, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, p.85

Jarinyanu David Downs was born in the Great Sandy Desert in the 1920s and moved from his traditional lands to the cattle stations in the 1940s. He returned and settled in the Kimberley region in the north west of Australia late in life. Though he first began working as an artist decorating artefacts, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that he began painting on ceremonial boards in traditional ochres and natural resins and subsequently acrylic on canvas.


This board is believed to be one of his earliest works. It depicts a ceremony that involves both men and women that even children are permitted to view. The central horizontal form represents a windbrake of bushes called Kanala or Wuri, that emphasises the separate role of the musicians who tap boomerangs to create the rhythm and sing the story. Two kinds of boomerang are employed: Jarungarr - the curved, returning boomerang used in combat, and Waraka - less curved, non-returning weapons used for hunting kangaroos. The dancing men wear elaborate bodypaint which also covers the tall headdress  topped with Ngaliwili constructions made of tightly bound cockatoo feathers. The dancers are also wearing pubic pendants of string, leather, or pearl shell which covers their loins. 


Pictorial symbols represent country and the figures appear as elements within a larger composition, in contrast to the dominance of the single image of Kurtal that came to dominate his later paintings. Downs became renowned for the song cycle of Kurtal, the ancestral rain man who was born on a distant island and travelled to the Kimberley as a cyclone. As he moved inland he created places of ‘living water’ (permanent water sources) and visited other rain men, occasionally gaining valuable items from them through trickery and magic. The figure of Kurtal, often depicted with ceremonial head dress, and the participants in ce