About the Artwork

Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) is one of two large bark paintings by John Mawurndjul in the MCA Collection exhibited in the landmark exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou and the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, France in 1989.

Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) was painted at a time of extraordinary development and innovation for the artist, redefining traditional artforms and working with great fluidity, expression and scale. The technique of rarrk, or cross hatching, which Mawurndjul has refined and adapted to a masterful level, is particularly intense in this work.

The painting depicts the figure of the lighting spirit Namorrorddo, a profane spirit sometimes called a ‘bad angel’ in Aboriginal English. The Namorrorddo is a yirridjdja moiety being, associated with the Yabbadurruwa regional cult ceremony.

Namorrorddo sits upon a rock and is usually painted with long claw-like hands and feet. Sometimes spurs protrude from the elbows, somewhat like those of a flying fox. Namorrorddo carries light which emanates from his head. The shooting stars seen at night are Namorrorddo travelling across the night sky. He whistles an eerie cry which Aboriginal people say they can hear from time to time during the night. Namorrorddo is feared as an evil being who attacks humans by clubbing them with his fighting stick or miyarrul.

On another level the painting represents the various ancestral transformations of Namorrorddo. Each section of a divided body is an ancestral manifestation of an animal or spirit being. In large regional patrimoiety ceremonies, individual sections of animals and spirit beings in their divided ancestral forms are celebrated in ritual in the ceremony.

I am a painter on bark and exclusively so. I won’t change … I only paint the things my father talked about and so I keep those things in my bark paintings, in my cross hatching. I don’t go and paint on paper, paper is not for me, no. I hold on to what my father talked about and taught me and so I keep on painting on bark

John Mawurndjul

– About the artist


John Mawurndjul was born in 1952 near Mumeka, Mann River, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. A member of the Kuninjku people of Western Arnhem Land, he lives and works at Milmilngkan and Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Since his first exhibition in 1982 John Mawurndjul has become one of Australia’s most widely recognised artists; his works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Sydney, New York, Paris and Japan. In 2003 he won first prize in the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Award at the National Gallery of Victoria, and in 2005 his work was the subject of a major survey at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland. John Mawurndjul is one of eight artists whose work is now part of the largest international commission of contemporary Indigenous art from Australia at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris.

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Related Exhibitions

Volume One: MCA Collection

– Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) 2012

Great Collections

– Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown City Art Gallery 2008

rarrk - John Mawurndjul: Journey in Northern Australia

– Museum Tinguely 2005

MCA Unpacked

– Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) 2001

12th Biennale of Sydney

– Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) 2000

Aratjara - Australian Aboriginal Art

– Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 1994

Aratjara - Australian Aboriginal Art

– Hayward Gallery 1993

Aratjara - Australian Aboriginal Art

– Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen 1993

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