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Known as Ngalyod in the Kuninjku language of western central Arnhem Land, the rainbow serpent is mostly associated with bodies of water such as billabongs, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls where she resides. Therefore, she is responsible for the production of most water plants such as water lilies, water vines, algae, and palms, which grow near water. The roar of waterfalls in the escarpment country is said to be her voice. Large holes in stony banks of rivers and cliff faces are said to be her tracks. She is held in awe because of her apparent ability to renew her life by shedding her skin and emerging anew. Aboriginal myths about the rainbow serpent often describe her as a fearful creature that swallows humans only to regurgitate them, transformed by her blood. The white ochre used by artists to create brilliant white paint for bark paintings, body decoration, and in the past, rock art, is said to be the faeces of the rainbow serpent.
Top End Bugi is a showcase of innovation and expertise from the Arnhem Land Artists of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Ngukurr Arts Aboriginal Corporation and Maningrida Arts and Culture. Presenting a series of works on Stringybark and selection of Larrakitj, Top End Bugi celebrates the creativity and diversity of bark artists, emerging and established. Connecting city and country, Top End Bugi is a spotlight for contemporary bark art, combining Top End, a collective term given to the northernmost region of the Northern Territory and Bugi, the Darug (Sydney Aboriginal Language) word for bark.
As a cultural practice, bark art is a continuation of tradition, passing down sacred stories, designs and teachings through intricate strokes. The collection process begins after the wet season when the Stringybark tree is stripped, cured by fire, weighted and left to dry. Then using earth pigments, designs are layered, often with crosshatched strokes that speak to the cultural identity and visual language of the artist.
Artist: Melba Gunjarrwanga
Title: Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent), 1677-18.
Medium: Bark Painting
Dimensions: 114 x 42cm
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