74x51cm (paper) 59x39cm (image)
Noŋgirrŋa started life as one of the numerous children of Mundukul the Madarrpa warrior (c.1890-c.1950). He was a famed leader/warrior with uncountable wives of the Marrakulu, Dhudi Djapu and Galpu clans. She was a child of one of the four Galpu wives, Bulungguwuy. Life was a bountiful but disciplined subsistence amongst a working family group of closely related mothers, brothers and sisters. This was over fifty people! She was born on the beach at Darrpirra north of Cape Shield on the oceanside. But they were Wakir’ – camping- moving around. They went to Yilpara. They went to Djarrakpi. But their special place was Guwaŋarripa (Woodah Island). They were a fleet of canoes travelling all the way to Groote Island and back and forth from the mainland. They lived in this rich place. Their special spot on the mainland was Baratjula. A place to which she only returned after the creation of these paintings.
Baratjula is a Madarrpa clan estate adjacent to Cape Shield where the artist camped with her father and his many wives as a young girl. It is of the essence of Madarrpa but does not hold the high order sites that Yathikpa does. She lived nomadically as part of a clan group with a flotilla of canoes between Groote Eyelandt and the mainland. Her father’s name was Mundukul (Lightning Snake) and this is also the name of the serpent (also known as Water Python, Burrut’tji or Liasis Fuscus), which lives deep beneath the sea here. These are cyclonic, crocodile infested waters with huge tides and ripping currents and she is part of them.
Some of the designs show the rock set in deep water between the electric ‘curse’ that the snake spits into the sky in the form of lightning, and the spray of the sea trying to shift the immovable rock foundation of the Madarrpa. Yurr’yunna is the word used to describe the rough waves overtopping the rock and the spray flying into the sky. It is said that the serpents ‘spit’ lightning- ‘guykthun’. The extended meaning of ‘guykthun’ though includes “make something sacred or taboo through saying magic words’. In our language we ‘swear’ an ‘oath’ which sanctifies the speech but both words can also mean to utter profanities. We also understand that ‘curse’ can mean bad language but also a spell. The Top End has one of the world’s greatest number of lightning strikes at this time of year. These works show the sanctifying words being spat across the sky in lightning form. The lightning’s sacred power hits the seaspray rising from where it has just smashed into the rock. The energies captured in this painting are almost a match for those in the real life of a Top End Wet Season.
This journey from the sacred to the descriptive shifts in these works. She has reduced the Law to its elements unclothed in sacred design. Her identity cannot be separated from her art and so although she disavows any sacred intent the echo of miny’tji persists.