Peter Marralwanga

(c. 1916—1987)

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(c.1916–1987), Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) bark painter, was a senior ritual leader and bark painter of the Kuninjku language group of central Arnhem Land. Known as Djakku, a nickname which means ‘left handed’, he was encouraged to paint for the market relatively late in his life by another senior artist of this group Billy Yirawala. Yirawala and Marralwanga established an outstation at Marrkolidban, south-west of Maningrida, in the early 1970s, and painted regularly for the market from that date. Marralwanga was recognised locally to be very knowledgeable about ceremonies such as Wubarr, Mardayin, Kunabibi, and Yabbadurruwa, and was adept at painting subjects relating to these ceremonies, and in teaching a younger generation about them. He also painted subjects from the wide area he had grown to know during his lifetime. Because of his senior status, Marralwanga was confident in experimenting with new ways of depicting these subjects.

He was particularly skilful at representing spirit figures such as ngalkunburriyaymi (a female water spirit) which he painted with long flowing hair and body decoration that sparkled with brilliant, dotted sections. He frequently varied the style of infill pattern in his paintings, contrasting blocks of full colour with multicoloured cross-hatching, and by varying the sequence of colours in the cross-hatching could achieve different effects within the one painting. These techniques contributed to a dynamic painting surface that departs from the more usual, ordered, cross-hatching style of the region. Marralwanga had a strong influence on other younger artists of the region such as Jimmy Njiminjuma, John Mawurndjul, and his own son Ivan Namirrki.

Marralwanga's best work was represented in two exhibitions at the Aboriginal Traditional Arts Gallery in Perth in 1981 and 1983. The NGA purchased a major series of his works from this period.

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

Subjects: Art.

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