John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new

7 December 2019 – 19 January 2020

John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new reunites works of art made across a 40-year period. The artist has led the development of this exhibition, which describes in Kuninjku (and English) his places of special cultural significance known as kunred, as well as the sacred places and spirits – or Djang – that resurface time and time again in his art-making. We also encounter the animals and spirit beings that populate these locations including female water spirits (yawkyawk), rainbow serpents (ngalyod) and mischievous mimih spirits.

The places around western Arnhem Land that recur in his work include spring-fed creeks such as Milmilngkan, sandstone escarpments including Ngandarrayo and the white clay quarries of the seasonal creek called Kudjarnngal. The materials used by Mawurndjul to make his art come from these places: the stringy bark eucalypt skins that form the body of his bark paintings; the white clay, yellow and red ochres mined from sacred deposits that become paint; and the manyilk, the paint brush sedge that makes the single strand brushes that the artist uses to make cross hatching or rarrk.

The Mardayin ceremony, comprising rituals of a sacred nature, and informing so much of Mawurndjul’s work, remains a timeless narrative thread that links the past to the present, and sheds light on Kuninjku future – embracing the old and the new.

This exhibition was developed and co-presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia, in association with Maningrida Arts & Culture.

John Mawurndjul, Nawarramulmul (Shooting star spirit), 1988; Ngalyod (Female rainbow serpent), 1988; Ancestral spirit beings collecting honey, (1985 – 1987). Installation view, MCA Collection: Luminous, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2015 © John Mawurndjul / Copyright Agency, 2019, photograph: Christopher Snee.