Garrawurra Body Paint Design (#3205-16)


The Djan’kawu sisters are traveling from the Yirratjingu people at Yalangbarra (on the mainland, next to Groote Island), the Djapu clan further south where they sing with bilma (clap sticks) and yidaki (didgeridoo), then the Datiwuy clan, west of Yirrkala. We (the Garrawurra people) sing two songs about them with birrma (clap sticks), they aren’t really songs, they are stories. These ancestors traveled north, south, east and west.

Wherever they stopped, the Djan’kawu sisters changed their language, names, clan, ceremony and customs. They gave these things to the people. They also made Gapu Milminydjarrk or Milngurr (water holes) by poking their Dhorna or Ganinyidi (digging sticks) in the ground. Some of these waters are sacred, but some are alright to drink from. These are represented in works by roundels (milminydjarrk) and triangular fields (water draining into milminydjarrk)

The sisters gave us miku (red), watharr (white) and buthjalak (yellow) ochre colors for us to paint with. We use them for the Ngarra ceremony, which is a cleansing ceremony. Or the Bapurru ceremony performed when people die. We also have Nyuka (crab), Gudumurrku (fresh water cat fish), Bowarta (turkey), Ngatili (black cockatoo) and the Worrudj (colorful parrot).

Garrawurra designs can be identified by the limited palette of red, yellow and white and use of geometric elements including horizontal, vertical and diagonal stripes, circles and triangles. 

The common striped design represents the generic miny’tji (body paint design) used in the Ngarra or Bapurru ceremonies. There are many variations such as painted miku or radjpa (red) fields in the central sections of the works that represent the body paint ‘undercoat’. Red sections on the top and/or bottom of the works represent the body painted entirely with miku or radjpa (red) at the beginning of the ceremony. 

This piece features intersecting diagonal stripes. Diagonal stripes signify the seniority of male participants in the Ngarra ceremony. A set of diagonal stripes going in one direction are painted onto the body during the ceremony and is crossed at the last stages of the ceremony to signify a return to the Garrawurra homeland of Garriyak.

Interested in this artwork but thinking about a commission? Email us to discuss the details.

Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

The Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation is a community owned Art Centre that maintains an important position in the national art and cultural arena. Milingimbi Art and Culture has a long history of producing works steeped in active cultural practice such as barks, ceremonial poles, carvings and weavings. Works from Milingimbi are integral to important collections in many National and International institutions.


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