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Bede Tungutalum

Murtangkala  2015


80 × 121.5cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the MCA Foundation, 2015


About the Artwork

Murtangkala is the primary ancestral figure in the creation narrative of Tiwi mythology. Before Parlingari (creation times), only darkness and formlessness existed until the old blind woman arose from the ground at Murupianga on Melville Island and travelled north, creating the landforms and waterways as she went. Carrying her three children in tunga (bark baskets), Murtangkala ended her work by making Apsley Strait, which separates Melville and Bathurst islands. As a parting gesture, she generated the plants and animals to provide for her children.

In Bede Tungutalum’s linocut Murtangkala the Tiwi ancestral figure is represented against a backdrop of graphic pattern or Jilamara, evocative of his legendary Pukumani screenprint that he made at Tiwi Design in the 1970s. Radiating from the central portrait of the ancestral spirit woman are ceremonial spears, tutini (funeral poles) and dugong hunters in a canoe. Birds, reptiles and mammals enliven the image and bring individual totemic and narrative significance to the work.

Filling the entire picture plane in a compilation of iconography, the linocut is in direct contrast to the artist’s elementary woodblocks of 1969. Murtangkala is a recurrent theme for the artist, not only representative of Tiwi cosmology, but also Tungutalum’s artistic innovations and developments over nearly half a century. From his pioneering days at Tiwi Design, established with Giovanni Tipungwuti in 1970, to his 2015 residency at Duck Print Workshop in Port Kembla where Murtangkala was produced, Tungutalum continues to inspire generations of Tiwi with his independent and ambitious practice.

I am thinking about a new painting about the universe. It’s in my head: I just draw it.

Bede Tungutalum, 2015

Bede Tungutalum

– About the artist

Born 1952, Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu), Bathurst Island. Tiwi people. Lives and works Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu), Bathurst Island. Country: Munupi, Melville Island; Skin group: Yarrinapinilia (Red Ochre); Dance: Train

Bede Tungutalum was born in 1952 at Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu), Bathurst Island. His country is Munupi, Melville Island, skin group Yarrinapinilia (Red Ochre) and dance Train. He lives and works independently at Nguiu, Bathurst Island across a range of media, including carved and painted wooden sculpture, etching and painting. Tungutalum learned carving from his father, the well-known sculptor Gabriel Tungutalum. He was first taught how to cut woodblocks for printing while attending Xavier Boys School at Nguiu and refined and developed these techniques in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His earliest prints date from the late 1960s. In 1969, with fellow Tiwi artist Giovanni Tipungwuti, he established the innovative and experimental Tiwi Design, an art centre dedicated to the production of hand-printed fabrics featuring Indigenous designs.

His work has been exhibited widely across Australia and he has undertaken artist residencies in Canada and New Zealand. Selected exhibitions in which his work has been shown include The Power of Paper: 50 Years of Printmaking from Australia, Canada and South Africa, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK (2015);Multiple Choices: 40 Years, 40 Winners, Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award, Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth (2015); the opening of the Indigenous galleries at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2010); Papuranguwi Arikutumurnuwi: Sculpture and Painting from the Tiwi Islands, Bett Gallery, Hobart (2008); Bangu Yilbara: Works from the MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2006); Freestyle: New Australian Design for Living, Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design, Sydney (2006), QUT Art Museum, Brisbane (2007) and Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2007); Islands in the Sun, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2001); Tiwi 2000, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs (2000); Tiwi Prints: A Commemorative Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (1997); Malu Urul, National Maritime Museum, Sydney (1994); New Tracks, Old Land: Contemporary Prints from Aboriginal Australia, touring Australia and USA (1992–93); Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (1990); Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (1989); On the Edge: Five Contemporary Aboriginal Artists, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth (1989); The Inspired Dream: Life as Art in Aboriginal Australia, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin and touring internationally (1988); and the Commonwealth Games, Edmonton, Canada (1978).

Tungutalum was included in the inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award in 1984 and again in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2003. In 2000 he was awarded first prize in the Shell Fremantle Print Award. His work is held in major public collections throughout Australia including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

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