Malangi, David


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(1927–1999), Djinang (Yolngu) bark painter, printer, and designer, was born at Mulanga, the land of the Manyarrngu people, at the mouth of the Glyde River in north-central Arnhem Land, just before the arrival of Christian missionaries on the nearby island of Milingimbi. He was initiated around 1941, and as an adult lived between Mulanga, Milingimbi, and his mother's land at Yathalamarra waterhole.

After painting for ritual purposes only for many years, he learnt from a group of older artists how to paint for the ‘outside’ market in the 1960s. He became famous when one of his paintings, which had been collected and displayed by Czech anthropologist and art collector Karel Kupka, was reproduced on the Australian one-dollar note—without his permission. He said of his work: ‘The paintings are just like our sacred sites and dreamings. In doing paintings we are acting out our ancestral traditions. That's where they come from, our sacred dreamings. I only paint my land because it's mine. And Yirritja is my mother's land. And my grandmother's land. Each person—whether Dhuwa or Yirritja—have to look after their own land.’

Malangi's painting style is marked by large plots of bold blacks, reds, and yellows, usually fixed with a cross-panel of rrarrk cross-hatching at the base of the composition, representing the land itself. The lines are like his signature; the sequences of white bands, then red, then yellow, mirror the array of similar colours that make up the Djang'kawu sacred design. His arrangements of figures are adventurous, monumental, and challenging. On several occasions he collaborated with urban Aboriginal artists, including Arone Raymond Meeks, Avril Quaill, and Fiona Foley to create murals in Surfers Paradise (Qld) and Darwin.

In 1979 Malangi, with fellow Ramingining artists George Milpurrurru and Johnny Bonguwuy, became the first Aboriginal artists to show their work at the Biennale of Sydney, in ‘A European Dialogue’. In 1983 a suite of Malangi's paintings appeared in ‘Australian Perspecta’ (AGNSW) and his work appeared in the important ‘Dreamings’ exhibition at the Asia Society in New York in 1988. He travelled to the opening with fellow Ramingining artist Jimmy Wululu. The same year both were major contributors to the Aboriginal Memorial, first shown in ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’ at the 1988 Bicentenary Biennale of Sydney. In 1992 Aboriginal film-maker Michael Riley directed a film about David Malangi for the ABC.

Malangi received an Australia Council Award in 1997, and an honorary doctorate from the ANU in 1998. He died in 1999, leaving a large family, some of whom are also painters, and throughout his career inspired many Aboriginal artists across the continent.

From The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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