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Mr John Mawurndjul

May 15, 2019

A Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor, Mr John Mawurndjul is one of the leading Aboriginal Australian artists, receiving worldwide recognition for his work. He was born in 1952 near Mumeka, an important camping site for members of the Kurulk clan on the Mann River some 50 kms south of Maningrida. He grew up at Mumeka and surrounding Tomkinson, Liverpool and Mann Rivers seasonal camps with only sporadic contact with balandas (non-aboriginal people). In the late 1970s he was tutored in painting by his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and Uncle Peter Marralwanga, who showed him how to use rarrk cross-hatching in new and innovative ways.

Mr Mawurndjul started to paint on small barks generally depicting natural species and mythological beings such as Ngalyod the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites (djang) in all western Arnhem Land. During the late 1980s he started to produce larger and more elaborate paintings with complex arrangements of figures. His work rapidly captured the attention of art critics and in 1988 he won the Rothmans Foundation Award for best painting in traditional media at NAAA and the first prize at the Barunga Festival Art exhibition. In 1991 Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery held his first solo show and during the 1990s his work was included in major overseas exhibitions such as Dreamings in New York (1988), Crossroads in Japan (1992), Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Germany and UK (1993-94) and In the heart of Arnhem Land in France (2001).

In 2000, his work was featured at the Sydney Biennale and in 1999, 2002 and 2016 he won the bark painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. 

He won the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Prize in 2003. In 2004, his work was included in the landmark survey exhibition Crossing Country, the Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land held at the AGNSW. In 2005, Mr Mawurndjul was honoured with a major retrospective of his work at the Musee Jean Tinguely in Basel Switzerland. In 2006 he worked on a large scale commission for the new Musee du Quai Branly in Paris which has become an integral part of the architecture.

Learn more about the 2020 First Nations Arts Awards.