Roland has painted a kulabbarl scene with a yawkyawk, which is the Kunwinjku name for freshwater mermaid spirits. Kulabbarl is what we Bininj (Aboriginal people) call a billabong, where the flow of a river is blocked and builds up in the rain. Lots of fish are concentrated there, especially when the water starts to recede in the dry season. In small billabongs, we catch things like burd (freshwater bream), marrngunj (small Eel-Tailed Catfish) wakih (freshwater shrimp), kedjebe (file snakes) and ngalmangiyi (Long-Necked Turtle). And in big billabongs, we go and get fish like namarnkol (barramundi), kuluybirr (saratoga) and manmakkawarri (catfish). Sometimes we see kinga (saltwater crocodiles). There are manimunak (magpie geese), djilikuybi (whistling ducks) and lots of other birds which we eat at billabongs.
Yawkyawk is the Kunwinjku term used for young women but also for female water spirits that have fish tails as shown in this work. Sometimes they are described as ‘mermaids’ who live in trees and water in special places in West Arnhem Land.
Yawkyawk start out in a tadpole-like form, as they get older they grow fish tails and spend most of their time in the water but are able to sit on the banks of billabongs. When fully grown they are able to change their tails into legs and walk on land to forage for food. They also change into dragonflies at the end of the wet season, which signifies to the bininj (aboriginal people) the rains have finished.
Yawkyawk are said to have namarnkol (barramundi) as pets and that Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent serves as their protector. These spirits are guardians of sacred waterholes.
Kunwinjku art is part of the oldest continuous art tradition in the world. Ancestors of today’s artists have been painting the rock walls of West Arnhem Land for tens of thousands of years. The traditional palette of white, red, yellow and black comes from the ochre that naturally occurs in the region, although contemporary artists sometimes choose to paint in acrylics as well. Kunwinjku artists famously paint using either the traditional rarrk hatching technique, or the more contemporary and complex cross hatching technique which has been adapted from ceremonial painting. These lines are painted using a manyilk, which is a piece of sedge grass shaved down until only a few fibres remain.
Artists at Injalak Art Centre have been painting on Arches 640gsm handmade watercolour paper since it was introduced as a medium by American art collecter John W. Kluge in 1990 when he commissioned a suite of paintings for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection at the University of Virginia, USA. It is archival quality and has an organic texture that mimics the natural surface of bark, making it an excellent alternative in West Arnhem Land where trees suitable for bark harvesting are much sparser than other areas of the Top End of Australia.
This painting needs to be framed. It’s also being sent direct from the artist at a remote art centre, Injalak Arts, in the top end. Please note there is only one mail plane a week that takes the artwork to Gunbalanya. The tracking information is then received a week later when the mail plane returns so often the paintings are delivered before we receive the tracking information. Please expect a slightly longer wait for this very special artwork to arrive.
Acrylic paint on 640 gsm Arches paper
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Unframed (requires framing)
This artwork is unframed and requires framing.