Art+ Book Extract


KNOW MY NAME is the massive reference book that accompanies the exhibition Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now on show at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) until early July 2021. The second part of the show will open in late July. In the meantime, KNOW MY NAME the book offers encyclopedia-style bite-sized entries on more that 150 female artists. Some are already famous, but every reader is bound to discover someone new. In the extract below, © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Tina Baum examines the work of Madarrpa painter Noŋgirrŋa Marawili.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili
By Tian Baum

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili
Madarrpa People
born c 1939 Baniyala
Northern Territory.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, Lightning, 2017, enamel paint on aluminium composite material, 300 x 150 x 2.5cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, purchased with funds provided by the MCA Foundation 2017.


The power and energy of the yurr’yuna or incoming rough seas striking against solid rocks in Noŋgirrŋa Marawili’s Madarrpa Country can be seen in her stunning black and white painting Lightning 2017. The thin tendrils of white dots accentuate the spray of water as it is flung into the air and, combined with the reflective black metallic base, reinforces the electrifying power within the work. As Marawili explains:

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 duŋgurŋaniny, 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. (1)

Lightning refers to Mundukul, the Lightning Snake, also known as a water python, (2) who is the creator of guykthun or lightning strikes that it spits up into the sky during storms. Guykthun also relates to the action of cursing or swearing, therefore Mundukul is cursing and spitting lightning at the same time. Electrical storms are common during the monsoonal or wet season in northern Australia and this work channels the crackling energy and power during this time.

Well known for her sophisticated nuwayak or bark paintings, Marawili stylistically branched out from her family’s pictorial traditions, developing an individualistic style that reflects her primary subject matter, the Baratjala story. In the 1990s she started painting for the Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre in Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, initially assisting her late husband, D Mununggurr. Her extensive oeuvre has included painting larrakitj or hollow log poles, painting on paper and metal, as well as producing prints and sculptures combining her different clan cultural designs. Her current innovation, using glossy aluminium and recycled magenta printer toner in her works, reveals an ingenious and inquisitive mind.

Based in Yirrkala, Marawili grew up surrounded by strong family, culture and art. Her contemporary renditions of this sacred story are a powerful reflection and reminder of her ongoing connection to her cultural knowledge and Country. As a senior artist and matriarch her works bring to light elements of her Madarrpa culture that will resonate for years to come.

KNOW MY NAME is published by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

1. Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, artist statement, Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2017, p89.
2. Water python also known as Burrut’tji or Liasis fuscus.