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Aboriginal Art Centers in Central Arnhem Land
A short history of indigenous art centers
(click on the district or the community you're interested in)

Carte des communautés aborigcnes

See other works coming from Maningrida

Stretching between the Liverpool and the Blyth Rivers, this region is celebrated for its bark paintings, the technique of which is said to have been passed on to the first Aboriginals by the Mimi Spirits themselves (these air deities living in the coastal caves the walls of which they covered with their own willowy figures). The Maningrida community is the most important in the region.

The works of art produced in Maningrida were first known only by the missionaries settled in Arnhem Land and then by the anthropologists. Between the two world wars, they attracted the attention of artists like French poet André Breton, who owned a few of them in his personal collection. In 1932, he wrote a monograph about them, entitled "Main première" ("Primeval hand"), which was used as a preface in the book of the great discoverer of this culture, Karel Kupka, Un Art à l'état brut (Lausanne: Clairefontaine, 1962), published in English as Dawn of Art: Painting and Sculpture of Australian Aborigines (New York: Viking Press, 1965). This monograph, insisting on the "creative act" that the making of these works of art really is, has been included in Perspective cavalière, a collection of essays by André Breton (Paris: Gallimard, coll. "L'imaginaire", 1970).

As in whole central Arnhem Land, these paintings still play an important part in the religious ceremonies inherited from the Dreamtime. By evoking the legend of the Great Ancestors, they work as media for the transmission of the secrets to the initiated: that is to say how the world was created, how this creation is carried on from season to season; how its mysteries are passed on and often symbolized by the acts of swallowing and regurgitating. Besides, these paintings are decorated with dhulang (the name of the rarrk in this part of Arnhem Land) and take from these streaked motifs laden with clan value the energy they symbolize and are, therefore, magic objects.

As far as the represented scenes are concerned, bark paintings often combine the figurative style specific to wall art and the abstract style (streaks) specific to ritual bark painting. In effect, central Arnhem Land is, from an artistic point of view, a transition between the figurative art of the west and the eastern works of art, in which streaks are prevailing.

The distinctive feature of the works of art of this region is the "X-Ray" style, revealing the inside of the bodies, mainly those of the Great Ancestors such as the gods of lightning Narrangem and Naldaluk, the Wagilag Sisters or the Wititji Snake whose legend tells us his heroic fight near the sacred site of Mirrarrmina. As a matter of fact, the oldest painting known in this region (dating from 1937) represents the Wagilag Sisters, fresh water deities, whereas the two sisters and the brother Djang'kanu, creators of the sea fauna, reign on salt waters. But the paintings can also represent familiar animals of the fauna: birds, kangaroos, varans and marine animals (seals, sharks, and shellfish) which lived 10,000 years ago, when the sea level increased and the water invaded the coastal valleys where the Aboriginals lived and forced them to integrate these new water elements into their land mythology. Naturally, the flora has also its place in the iconography of the region: yam, flowers, ferns, eucalyptus. Eventually, one should also note the role played by fire and water, and, more surprisingly, by the four varieties of honey, honored on an equal basis with the other Great Ancestors of Aboriginal tribes.

The art of central Arnhem Land is not represented only by bark painting but also by sculpture, with many artists like Brian Nyinawanga, whose sculptures are inspired by ritual objects (animal or human figures, painted bones). Besides, Maningrida artists also produce ceremonial bags (called dillies), made of plaited natural fibers and painted in vivid natural colors (blue, red, pink, yellow), jewellery (diadems), belts and grass skirts which the Aboriginals wear during religious ceremonies.


Although many contemporary artists remain anonymous, like the oldest bark painters, as early as the 1950's-1960's a few people became famous, like Dawidi Djulwarak, who, in 1965, painted an important series devoted to the Wagilag Sisters. Among the younger generation of painters, we can mention Paddy Dhatangu, whose work is very dense, full of objects (funeral trunks, for example) and animal and floral motifs, masking the background, and Mimi Paddy Fordham Wainburranga, who sculpts and paints Spirits. Finally, among contemporary sculptors, we can also mention Lena Yarinkura, who specializes in plaited sculptures of Yawkyawk mermaids and Bob Burrawal who makes monumental totem poles.

 Aboriginal Art - Australian Indigenous Art - Mimih sculptures
  Some references:
Musée du Quai Branly, Musée des Confluences à Lyon, Musée d'Art Contemporain les Abattoirs à Toulouse, Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Asie de Vichy, Musée de la Musique, Museum d'histoire naturelle de Lille, Musée de Rochefort, Fondation Electricité de France, Fondation Colas, Banque Dexia ...

We are members of the Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés en Objets d'Art et de Collection (C.N.E.S.)*
We are members of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d'Art
*National French Chamber of experts specialized in artworks
Comité des Galeries d'Art
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