“I paint water designs. The water. As it crashes onto the rocks at high tide. Sending the spray into the sky. You know what I mean. That’s what I do. And also those things on the rocks that I paint as dots are called dungunanin, the barnacles that dress up the rocks. I just do my own design from the outside. Water. Rock. Rocks that stand strong. And the waves that run and crash upon the rocks. The sea spray. This is the painting I do. You may spy on me and think that I am painting sacred things. This would be a lie.” — Mrs N. Marawili, 2017
Mrs N. Marawili is a Maḏarrpa /Galpu woman from Baniyala in north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. As a teenager, Marawili moved to the community of Yirrkala with her sisters, where she continues to live and work. There she met her husband, the late Djutadjuta Mununggurr, who was a leader of the Djapu clan and painted his clan’s themes. He gave cultural permission for Marawili to produce works depicting these themes independently. She initially worked predominantly as a printmaker, depicting the fauna of her Country such as Baru (crocodile). At this time, Marawili produced works pertaining to the Djapu clan as well as works that celebrated the natural environment.
From 2011 onwards Marawili embraced painting as her main art form. She translated features from her printmaking practice to her paintings, such as dynamic contrasting colour palettes. She developed a distinctive visual style consisting of organic arrangements of fine lines and dots set against rich, even backgrounds. Her bold and resolved designs are distinct from the dominant Yolngu bark painting style which often features dense crosshatching. Marawili’s dramatic paintings on bark and larrakitj (funerary poles) are elemental and reference natural occurrences of lightning, wind, rain and sunlight.
Marawili’s work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions held nationally including the 2017 Indigenous Art Triennial, Defying Empire at the National Gallery of Australia, and the 2018 Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibition from my heart and mind, which brought together works from across her career. She has received awards including the Telstra Bark Painting Award, which she won in both 2015 and 2019, and the Roberts Family Prize in association with the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Wynne Prize, which she won in 2019.
Biography written by Yvette Dal Pozzo in collaboration with NGA curatorial and research staff and edited by Dr Nicola Teffer and Will Stubbs, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre