• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • Flickr
  • Youtube
  • eNews

Arnhem Land bark painting

Yalangbara c.1960

Mawalan Marika, Australia, Rirratjingu people 1908-67 | Wandjuk Marika, Australia, Rirratjingu people1927-87 | Larrtjanga Ganambarr, Australia, Ngaymil people c.1932-2000 | Nurryurrngu Marika, Australia, Rirratjingu people b.unknown-1979 | Mowarra Ganambarr, Australia, Dathiwuy people c.1917-2005 | Mithinarri Gurruwiwi, Australia, Galpu people 1929-1976 | Gungguyama Dhamarrandji, Australia, Djambarrpuyngu people c.1916-1970 | Munggurruwuy Yunupingu, Australia, Gumatj people c.1907-1978 | Yalangbara c.1960 | Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark | Purchased 2003 with funds from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal and the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artists

Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

Contemporary Arnhem Land bark painting techniques have evolved from those used in ancient rock art, painting on wet-weather bark shelters and hollow-log burial poles, and in body painting. Since anthropologist Baldwin Spencer commissioned the first bark paintings from artists in western Arnhem Land in 1912, there have been significant changes in style, technique, scale and iconography, largely as a result of paintings entering public institutions and an appreciation of their aesthetic significance. By the 1970s, a strong market had developed – bark painting was recognised as contemporary art and it continues to evolve today. Recent bark paintings have complex and refined surface patterning, and are even cut into geometric shapes.

These bark paintings from eastern Arnhem Land are characterised by figurative elements, repeated geometric patterns and intricate crosshatching (rarrk), which creates shimmering surfaces. The narratives tell of heroic ancestral journeys and creative acts responsible for forming the land and culture.

Yalangbara is a rare collaborative bark painting by six senior artists from coastal Yirrkala, located in north-eastern Arnhem Land. Such monumental works were created in response to the proposed excision of land from the Arnhem Land reserve for bauxite mining. The artists painted their country and history in an attempt to stop the desecration of their sacred lands and to ensure the health and safety of future generations of Yolngu people.

The bark used for Arnhem Land paintings, canoes and bush shelters is invariably sourced from the versatile stringy-bark tree (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). Its wood is used for ceremonial objects, tools, didgeridoos, drums and hollow-log coffins. The bark is taken from the tree in large sheets after seasonal rains have caused the sap to rise; it is then cleansed by fire, flattened, seasoned and smoothed, after which it provides an inviting surface on which to paint. The artists source and prepare ochres and pigments, fix them with glue and apply them with small brushes. With the bark lying on the ground, they then paint in-the-round.

Collection Highlight

Various artists Yalangbara c.1960

This significant bark concerns a major creation story from north-east Arnhem Land which describes how the Djang’kawu (two sisters and their brother) formed the land and laid down the social and cultural laws by which people were to live. They came from the east in their canoe, following the rays of the sun, and landed on the beach at Yalangbara. They carried two digging sticks (mawalan) decorated with feathered strings which they plunged into the earth to create a network of freshwater holes.

Some of these senior artists also collaborated in painting the historic 1963 Bark Petition which ultimately led to the enactment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976

Of Interest 

The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975 | Contemporary Australian Art 

Search the Queensland Art Gallery's Collection online for works by Larrtjanga Ganambarr and Munggurrawuy Yunupingu | Collection Search