Historical information

Balang [John MAWURNDJUL] (1952 - ) Born Mumeka, Northern Territory Country: Milmilngkan, West Arnham Land, Northern Territory Clan: Na-Kurulk Language Group: Kunwinjku Location: Milmilngkan John Mawurndjul is an Australian indigenous artist. He is a member of the Kuninjku people of West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Growing up John had only occasional contact with non-indigenous people and culture. He was tutored in rarrk, a traditional painting technique using fine cross hatching and infill, working on small barks. During the 1980s he started producing larger and more complex works. The artist has painted 'Wayarra', a generic term which can include both malevolent spirit beings which continually inhabit certain sites or objects but can also mean the Spirit of a recently deceased person. These spirits are one of two spirits of the dead, the other being the 'Kun-malng' soul. The 'Wayarra' is the shadow or 'shade' of the dead and may take on the form of the deceased and haunt areas where the deceased recently inhabited. In order to prevent Wayarra spirits from harassing relative of the recently deceased, a smoking ceremont is performed where Ironwood leaves are burnt around the camp of the recently deceased and ochre is rubbed on all objects belonging to the deceased. Ochre may also be rubbed on vehicles, houses and trees. Some Wayarra are a particular Dreaming totem for people of certain clans. This is why many artists depict Wayarra in their bark paintings and sculptures. They are depicting clan totems particular to their lineage and which are celebrated in major regional patrimoiety ceremonies. In 1989 the work of John Mawurndjul was included in the landmark exhibition "Magiciens de la Terra' at the Centre Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Vilette in Paris, France. His works have also been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Australia, New York, Paris and Japan. Mawurndjul is one of eight artists whose work in part of the largest inernational commission of contemporary Indigenous art from Australia at the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris. The work was exhibited in the Australian survey "John Mawurndjul: I Am The Old And The New", at the Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the 160-odd works all chosen by Mawurndjul for inclusion in the exhibition. This item is part of the Federation University Art Collection. The Art Collection features over 1000 works and was listed as a 'Ballarat Treasure' in 2007.


This artwork was chosen by John Murwurndjul as on of around 160 works for exhibition in the 2018 Australian Survey of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The artist is known for his rarrk work, which is evident in 'Female Wayarra Spirit'.

Physical description

Aboriginal bark painting featurung rarrk. The artwork is associated with Dilebang, a duwa moiety place that belongs to the Kurulk clan. This work is currently on loan for exhibition in 'John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new'. The exhibition will be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Sydney) from 6 July – 23 September 2018, and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide from 26 October 2018 – 28 January 2019.