David MALANGI DAYMIRRINGU | Untitled ( Catfish)

Australia 1927 – 1999
Untitled ( Catfish)
1985.0259.0269 Wooden painted sculpture of eel-tailed catfish, white head, find on sides, crosshatched body 1965
natural pigments on wood
79.5 (h) x 22.0 (w) x 6.5 (d) cm
Mrs Yolanda Pettinato Collection, National Museum of Australia, Canberra
© David Malangi. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

As a symbol of a person’s spirit or soul, fish are prevalent in Yolngu painting and the Ancestral Catfish features as an important part of the Djalumbu [hollow log] ceremony.

Manbiri (the catfish) also came from the east, from Gapuwiyak. While Murayana danced, people ate the Catfish and placed the bones inside the hollow log.

The darter feeds upon catfish and the action of descending to snatch the catfish from underwater is a metaphor for the transition from life to death.

The bones of the catfish which symbolise the bones and soul of the deceased person are expressed as a parallel-line or herringbone pattern in bark paintings as well as on hollow log coffins. Yirritja artist Jimmy Wululu, Malangi’s nephew, who has rights to paint Yathalamarra stories, is best known for his barks and hollow logs decorated with the bone design, as featured in The Aboriginal Memorial in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander gallery on the entrance level of the National Gallery of Australia.[1]

[1] ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Excerpt from Margie West, ‘Yathalamara — land of the waterlily’ in the exhibition catalogue No ordinary place: the art of David Malangi, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2004, p. 42–50. 

The publication, which includes articles by the exhibition curator Susan Jenkins, Nigel Lendon and Djon Mundine, is available from the Gallery Shop for $34.95 (RRP $49.95) or online at ngashop.com.au.

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