top of page

John Mawurndjul

Artist 298

John Mawurndjul

Rarrk Painting

John Mawurndjul (born 1952) is a Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor, known as one of the leading Aboriginal Australian artists. He has received worldwide recognition for his work.

Mawurndjul’s motif deals with the spirituality of the Kuninjku people, as well as their various ceremonies. He uses both traditional and experimental techniques. A good example of this is Mawurndjul is a master of rarrk, the cross-hatching painting method that is imbued with sacred knowledge.

In the 1970s he started to paint on small barks generally depicting natural species and mythological beings such as Ngalyod the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites (djang) in all western Arnhem Land.

During the late 1980s he started to produce large and more elaborate paintings with complex arrangements of figures. His work rapidly captured the attention of art critics and in 1988.

In 1991 he held his first solo show and his work was included in major overseas exhibitions dealing with Aboriginal Australian art.

Mawurndjul has been a major influence on contemporary Kuninjku artists who paint in his style. He has created a whole school of artists and has led an exciting and contemporary Australian art movement.

John Mawurndjul’s work has always dealt with themes of spirituality, mythology and life cycle. Ngalyod has remained a central theme in his work but over last 20 years he has concentrated on more abstract works associated with the Mardayin ceremony, a now rarely performed sacred ceremony with clan identity and mortuary themes.

It was an early secret cult ceremony into which John Mawurndjul was initiated and has left a lasting impression on Mawurndjul. His paintings depict the ceremony at particular sites located on his clan estate, including elements of the ancestral landscapes and the stories which are not in the public domain.

He now often depicts in his work a large billabong at Milmilngkan which is a very important Rainbow serpent sacred site. Much of his paintings are based on the mythology of sites in this area of the Kurulk clan estate where he lives with his family.

Visually, in Mawurndjul’s recent works, fine cross-hatching now dominates the entire surface of the painting and encrypts various secret meanings.

The direction of the cross-hatching changes constantly and unpredictably. In innovating both in the treatment of rarrk and in the iconic representation of the Mardayin themes, he expresses in a dynamic way his strong connections to the land and ancestral power.

His sculptural work also incorporates Mardayin themes. He mainly concentrates on the representation of Mimih figures or Duwa moiety female creator beings called Buluwana.

They comprise, in their body decorations, elements borrowed from Mardayin body designs and painted wooden sculptures used in the ceremony. He was one of the first Kuninjku artists to use rarrk instead of dotting patterns on his Mimih carvings, making again the path for a new trend in Kuninjku art.

“The old ways of doing things have changes into the new ways. The new generation does things differently. But me, I have two ways. I am the old and the new” – John Mawurndjul

Sources consulted


bottom of page