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John Mawurndjul

Nawarramulmul (Shooting star spirit)  1988

ochres and synthetic polymer on bark

219.4 × 95 × 8.5cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds donated by Mr and Mrs Jim Bain, 1989

1989.2

About the Artwork

John Mawurndjul’s art is concerned with themes of spirituality, ancestral landscapes and the cycle of life. Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) depicts a spirit figure that appears like a star in the sky. According to Mawurndjul, ‘Nawarramulmul doesn’t have a social category, but it is a dangerous spirit being. It is dangerous … It might take an hour to come and shine its light. It burns brightly, shimmering like a star and then it finishes.’ 

Mawurndjul is considered one of the most experimental artists working in Arnhem Land, whose style continues to evolve. Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) was painted at a time of extraordinary development and innovation, when Mawurndjul was redefining traditional artforms and working with great fluidity, expression and scale. Mawurndjul has refined and adapted the technique of rarrk, or cross-hatching, in which fine lines and areas of colour appear to glow from the surface of the bark, to a masterful level. It is particularly intense in this work.

Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) is one of two large bark paintings by Mawurndjul in the MCA collection exhibited in the landmark exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, France in 1989. This show sought to undo the Eurocentrism of contemporary art by exhibiting artists from western and non-western backgrounds alongside one another.

It might take an hour to come and shine its light. It burns brightly, shimmering like a star and then it finishes.

John Mawurndjul, 2015

John Mawurndjul

– About the artist

Born 1952, near Mumeka, Mann River, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Lives and works Milmilngkan and Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land. Kuninjku people.


Working within the long tradition of bark painting, John Mawurndjul’s work explores themes of spirituality, mythology and life cycles. The revered Ngalyod, or Rainbow Serpent, has remained a central theme in his work, along with the sacred places and Mardayin ceremonies of his ancestral homeland. Mawurndjul is well known for his innovative use of very fine rarrk (cross-hatching) in dazzlingly complex arrangements that dominate the surface of his paintings, depicting and encoding these sacred sites and stories.

Since his first exhibition in 1982 Mawurndjul has become one of Australia’s most widely recognised artists. In 1989 he was included in the landmark exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, France and his works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Sydney, New York, Paris and Japan. His work was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland in 2005. Mawurndjul is one of eight artists whose work is now part of the largest international commission of contemporary Indigenous art from Australia at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. His work is represented in the collections of major public institutions in Australia and internationally.

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