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PROPERTY FROM VARIOUS OWNERS

Alec Mingelmanganu 1905-1981
WANJINA
JUMP TO LOT
31

PROPERTY FROM VARIOUS OWNERS

Alec Mingelmanganu 1905-1981
WANJINA
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Aboriginal Art

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London

Alec Mingelmanganu 1905-1981
WANJINA
Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark, bent Supplejack vine and bush string
129.5 by 63 cm
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Provenance

Painted at Kalumburu, North Western Australia in 1976
Bortignons Gallery, Western Australia
Private Collection, Victoria, acquired from the above in 1981
Private Collection, USA, by descent from the above
Private Collection, Western Australia, acquired from the above

This painting is sold with the original Bortignons Gallery invoice and a copy of the receipt

Catalogue Note

Painted figures of Wanjina ancestors that grace the rock walls of the northern and western Kimberley are among the most iconic images in Australia rock art even though their history is relatively short, with the earliest paintings dating back some 4,000 years.1 Wanjina appear in range of guises and identities including in the form of animals and natural flora, as well as phenomena associated with the monsoons that they create, as rain, storms, cyclones, whirlpools, lightning and cloud formations. They also control fertility in humans and in all natural species.

 

The arrival of foreigners in the region from the late nineteenth century prompted artists belonging to the Worrorra, Wunambul, Ngarinyin and neighbouring language groups to seek means to propagate further the spiritual powers of Wanjina by painting or etching their images on shards of slate, slabs of timber and on flattened sheets of eucalyptus bark, and more recently on canvas.

 

Alec Mingelmanganu, a Worrorra artist who lived on the mission at Kalumburu, was one of the leading Wanjina painters of the twentieth century. Mingelmanganu was not a prolific artist in the public domain; his major works on bark and on canvas are limited in number, but Vermeer-like, they are masterpieces of a tradition.

 

While Mingelmanganu’s images of Wanjina adhere to the tenets of the genre, they are distinctive. The figures usually are depicted with hunched shoulders painted white, opening out to a rounded head that is bordered by a halo-like ring.2 The eyes are close-set either side of a vertical for the nose, and the mouth is not shown. A horizontal line runs across the chest to separate the torso and limbs that are decorated in red ochre stippling representing falling rain. The stippling lends the image a sense of shimmer or brilliance to evoke the presence of ancestral power within the painting; it has the effect of taking the picture out of the profane and into the spiritual realm. From the lateral chest line hangs an ornament or breast-plate, likely to represent an engraved ceremonial pearl shell of the type that originate in the western Kimberley and are traded over vast distances through the deserts of western and central Australia.

 

Significantly, in his paintings, Mingelmanganu strove to replicate a sense of the scale of the rock paintings which vary from human size to the monumental. He achieves this by drawing the figure to the extremities of the support, lending it a sense of overarching grandeur.

 

This painting is likely to have been shown at the first commercial exhibition of Wanjina paintings at the Aboriginal Traditional Arts gallery in Perth in the late 1970s. The nature of the painted surface and the cane binding that frames the picture is consistent with a number of other paintings from that exhibition, or that Mingelmanganu created around that time, including Wanjina (Austral Gothic), 1975, and Jilinya, 1977, from the Thomas Vroom Collection that were sold at Sotheby’s Aboriginal art auction in London in June 2015.2

WC

1 This entry was written with reference to Kim Akerman’s Wanjina — Notes on Some Iconic Ancestral Beings of the Northern Kimberley, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, Western Australia, 2016. Kim Akerman who has written extensively on the history of the Wanjina and on the art of Alec Mingelmanganu.

2 Jilinya, 1977, is illustrated in Akerman, K., with J. E. Stanton, Riji and Jakuli : Kimberley pearl shell in Aboriginal Australia, Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin, 1994, p.57, plate 47. See also Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art – Thomas Vroom Collection auction catalogue, London, 10 June 2015, Lot 58, Wanjina (Austral Gothic), 1975, and Lot 59, Jilinya, 1997.

Aboriginal Art

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London