The Cross Art Projects. Artist Exhibition, Debra Phillips, A talker’s echo. 2023

Painted Lines of Stone Country Art — 2 to 23 February 2013

In tribute to Kodjok Namarnyilk (1940–2012)

Don Nakadilinj and Robert Namarnyilk with works from the late Galareya Kalarriya ‘Jimmy’ Namarnyilk and Bob Wanur Namundja

2 to 23 February 2013

The painted lines of these senior artists of West Central Arnhem Land run in parallel and are not cross hatched. The people of the headwaters of the Liverpool and the Mann Rivers have this as their style or way. Their art continues the tradition of rock art and tells the stories of the spirits, ancestors and creatures who shaped the stone country.

Mr Namarnyilk was an artist without peer in his great talent and unique knowledge of ceremony, country and law. The artist’s ‘sorry name’ or subsection name is Kodjok. He was known as Galareya (or Kalarriya) ‘Jimmy’ Namarnyilk

This exhibition pays tribute to the refined elegance and integrity of his painting and to his generosity as a mentor to other artists, in particular to Don Nakadilinj Namarnyilk and Robert Namarnyilk.

The Cross Art Projects, Artist Exhibition. Painted Lines of Stone Country Art — 2 to 23 February 2013

Galareya Namarnyilk, Ancestral Figure and sacred Mandem water lily, 2006 (16128), 76 x 53 cm. Galareya Namarnyilk, Dancer: Galagala the number one Ubarr performer, 2006 (16933), 76 x 38 cm. Don Nakadulinj Namundja, Ngalyod at Mankorlod, 2003 (15204), 38 x 105 cm. Bob Wanur Namundja, Mandem (Water Lily), 61 x 41 cm (14888). Robert Namarnyilk, Djuwanjdjuwanj: a short thick-set ancestor of the Malgawo region, mother’s country, 2006 (16904) 76 x 38 cm. All works natural ochres on Arches paper or bark.

Mr Namarnyilk was born around 1940 at Kukadjdjerre in the stone country of western Arnhem Land, near the headwaters of the Mann River. His invested culture is of the highest order: his father was the last great Ubarr Man. Mr Namarnyilk’s knowledge gives him the authority to paint, in a secular sense, the secret ritual of Ubarr dancers and senior conductors. These works are often portraits of celebrity individuals such as Dancer: Galagala the number one Ubarr performer. These rare portraits sit alongside depictions of ancestral heroes and power beings — lightning men and clever men of dual identity and totemic animals.

The respected linguist Dr Murray Garde described Mr Namarnyilk as ‘one of Australia’s living national treasures’. He was considered the most important ceremonial leader (or Djungkay) in western Arnhem Land due to his association with and travels to many parts of the great Arnhem plateau, and his sound knowledge of clan territories, sites of significance and associated traditions. He worked tirelessly as a consultant for the Northern Land Council and Kakadu National Park and up until his death was regularly sought after by museums, anthropologists, linguists and ecologists documenting artefacts from Northern Australia.

Mr Namarnyilk created paintings of great strength and deep spirituality late into his life. Bold vigorous marks were a hallmark of his paintings, unique amongst stone country artists. Kodjok has been included in numerous survey exhibitions and is represented in public and private collections nationally. In 1982 one of Kodjok’s images was used on the Australian 65c stamp.

It is remarkable that two great Stone Country artists, of the highest invested calibre, worked side by side as neighbours — Mr Namarnyilk and the late Mr Bardayal Nadjamerrek AO. The peers painted together on the Mok Clan estate and worked on surveys and mapping of clan estates.

Mr Namarnyilk helped raise Robert Namarnyilk. Robert’s father (Jimmy’s older brother), the collected artist and ceremonial man Spider Nabanu Namirikki, died when Robert was young. Jimmy and Don were ceremonial colleagues, with Jimmy also mentoring Don including encouraging him to paint. In 2002, curator Andrew Blake, then at Marrawuddi Gallery at Jabiru, had a call from Mr Bardayal’s camp at Kabulwarnamyo suggesting that this ‘little bloke’ (Don) wanted painting materials.

Although the two brothers, Bob Wanur Namundja and Don Nakadilinj Namundja, were of different ages, their art shares unique qualities and presence. The brothers’ paintings pay homage to the beauty and mystique of the plants, animals, ancestors and creator beings, totems and myths associated with Mankorlod, a small outstation run from Maningrida. The sacred spring, the Kardbam’s Eden, is some miles walk distant. Both men are Kunwinjku speakers of Nawakaji skin.

The brothers’ oddly metaphysical images describe a rich monsoonal forest pocket: livistona palms, noisy fruit bats and birds, possums in the rock ledges, snakes and echidnas, long yams and fruit and, in the waters made sacred by the Rainbow Serpent, lilies, fish and freshwater prawns.

Stone Country paintings typically have an austere background overlaid with a white cartoon given body and identity by natural ochres, also known as the rock art or x-ray style. However, the parallel line hatching in red marks out rock-country heritage and is a defining feature of the paintings of the Kunwinjku artists.

About the Artists

Don Nakadilinj Namundja (born 1954)

Immediate acclaim greeted Don’s painting debut in 2004. He paints the emblems, ancestors, animals and plants found at his birthplace at Mankorlod. His name, Nakadilinj, is made of the male prefix, Na, and the name, kadilinj, for a sacred place of water at Mankorlod. The freshness of his work prompted the National Gallery of Australia to immediately acquire two works from his first show at Raft in Darwin. He was selected for the prestigious National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in Darwin in 2003 and 2005.

In late 2005 The Cross Art Projects premiered Nakadilinj’s paintings alongside works by his brother, the late Bob Wanurr Namundja. His art, like the man, leaves lasting impressions of a rare integrity. Don, an orphan, left his country when very young and grew up in the regional centres of Maningrida and Gunbalunya and, for a time, in Darwin leprosarium for treatment. He travels throughout central Arnhem Land on senior ceremonial business and paints at Gamagowan outstation and Oenpelli.

Robert Namarnyilk

Robert paints curved ancestral bodies with a wonderful flow, energy and line making. Robert was born at Mudjinberri Station in Kakadu National Park where his father drove cattle. When Robert’s father passed away, Jimmy Galareya Namarnyilk ensured Robert and his brothers attended periods of graded and formal ceremony. Robert seeks mainstream acceptance as an artist and a sustained life, but has been remanded in prison. His first solo exhibition was at The Cross Art Projects in 2007.

Bob Wanur Namundja (born c. 1933 to 2007)

The artist spent much of his life travelling, participating in ceremonies and maintaining his extended kin network especially around the Mankorlod region of western Arnhem Land. In addition to this, he worked for three decades as a stockman (‘seemed more like one hundred years’). He and his family settled in Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) over two decades ago and he took up painting as a career.

Curator: Andrew Blake

Andrew is former manager of Marrawuddi Gallery and a former coordinator of Buku-Larrngay Mulka Art Centre at Yirkalla, where he initiated the major nationally touring exhibition SaltwaterYirkalla Bark Paintings of Sea Country (1999) now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum. During his term at Marawuddi Gallery, his initiative and interest encouraged the senior custodians of the Stone Country. Now a freelance curator, he maintains links with Marrawuddi Gallery as an advisor.

Andrew Blake selected these works for two exhibitions held at the old Cross Art Projects space in Roslyn Street Kings Cross. The first exhibition was titled The Art of Two Brothers: A Tribute to Bob Wanur Namundja and Don Nakadilinj Namundja (The Cross Art Projects, 2005). Don, the younger brother, had a rapid rise to national prominence after his ‘discovery’ a few years ago when painting alongside his mentor Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek AO, one of the nation’s most important artists. Don’s other great mentor was Mr Namarnyilk, leading to the show One Way: The Painted Lines Of Stone Country Art: Jimmy Galareya Namarnyilk, Don Nakadilinj and Robert Namarnyilk (The Cross Art Projects, 2007).


Presented in association with Marrawuddi Gallery
Operated by Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation Inc, a non-profit Aboriginal organisation
Jabiru Visitors’ Centre in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
T +61 (08) 89792777
Notes courtesy Andew Blake, Marrawuddi and Injalak Arts, Gunbalanya.