Area: Western Arnhem Land. NT
Language Bloc: Bininj kunwok
Language: Eastern Kunwinjku
Local Group (clan): Kurulk clan
Social Affiliations: Duwa moiety, Balang subsection
James was born in 1959 and is one of four brothers living at Mumeka, a remote outstation situated beside the mighty Mann River in the Stone Country which stretches in an almost unbroken line for 300 miles from Kakadu to Maningrida in Arnhemland.
James and his brothers had very little western education because of the difficulty of getting to a school at either Oenpelli or Maningrida, the nearest townships in Arnhemland. Instead they spent most of their time learning the history and religion of the Kunwinjku tribe as told to them by their uncle, the late famous bark painter Peter Maralwanga.
Their own father did not paint either on rock or on bark, and died when his four sons were quite small. Maralwanga took them to his outstation about 20 miles away and taught them how to paint in his inimitable style, which featured the complex pattern of rarrk or cross hatching for which he was most famous, and included brilliant flashes of white, said to be the fossilised droppings of the Rainbow Serpent. This clay comes from a hidden deposit at a secret and sacred place to which no other artists have access.
All of the brothers – Iyuna, Mawundjal, Njiminjuma and Bandawunga – achieved fame as traditional painters of the mythology taught to them by their uncle.
In 2006 James and his wife Melba Gunjarrwanga were commissioned to create a public art project for the Darwin Entertainment Centre. James continues to paint at his isolated outstation, only leaving it to attend mortuary rites and secret and sacred ceremonies, for some of which he is the ceremonial leader. James’s paintings hang in major galleries, and are featured in many art books.
Subjects and Themes
Ngalyod Rainbow Serpent, Dilebang sacred site rainbow serpents, Buluwana
submerged ancestor at Ngandarrayo, Mandjabu conical fish trap, Kunmadj dilly bag, Mimih spirits
Art Gallery of Western Australia
Museum of Contemporary Art, Maningrida Collection, Sydney
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Aboriginal Art Museum, The Netherlands
Andreas-Avery Collection, Sydney