Welcome to our Featured Art Centre Artist Series, where we delve into the captivating world of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistry. Across six topics, we explore the intricate interplay between country, cultural figures & stories, totems and animals, as showcased at the upcoming Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) 2024.

In this blog we highlight four incredible artists who explore cultural figures and stories significant to their families, communities and kin. Through art, they deepen their ancestral storylines for the next generation. Similar works will be showcased and sold at the Fair.

Joy Garlbin on Kunibidji Country. Photo by Alana Holmberg. Cover image: Bábbarra billabong with Joy Garlbin (landowner for Bábbarra) in front. Images courtesy of Babbarra Women’s Centre

Joy Garlbin

Art Centre: Babbarra Women’s Centre
Joy Garlbin is a Kunibídji woman from the Dukúrrdji clan and a traditional owner of Maningrida. Renowned for her versatile artistic practice, Joy excels in textile design, works on paper, bark and hollow log painting, and mimih spirit carvings.
Artwork Description
There are two Dreaming ladies at Bábbarra billabong – Djómi and Bábbarra. These two are sisters: one freshwater ‘mermaid’ and one saltwater one. Big long head, big stomach and very skinny legs that Bábbarra.

Their mother is the crocodile who lives in the Bábbarra billabong.

Both sisters will give people babies through the drinking water at Bábbarra. That’s why men stay away and Bábbarra is a sacred women’s site. Too strong our Dreaming – even men can get that baby in their tummies!

When it rains at Bábbarra, or when a cyclone comes, it’s because our Dreaming is too strong. There are lots of women spirits. When the storms come, the spirits go in the underground rivers and hide safely.

If you go fishing in our country, you have to be careful not to catch the Bábbarra and Djómi ‘mermaids’. Some people catch them thinking they are barramundi, but they are actually the ‘mermaid’ spirits. You will know, because they have white hair.

Lena Djabibba, djungkay (mother’s country and ceremonial manager of Bábbarra) and Joy Garlbin (landowner for Bábbarra)

Joy Garlbin, Bábbarra Billabong, lino print, 200cm x 110cm, 2024. Photo by Ziian Carey. Image courtesy of Babbarra Women’s Centre
Gordon Barunga. Image courtesy of Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre

Gordon Barunga

Art Centre: Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre
Gordon Barunga was born in Derby and grew up in the Mowanjum Community. He is the youngest son of respected Kimberley leader Albert Barunga [dec] and painter Pudja Barunga [dec]. Gordon worked at several Kimberley stations, including Pantijan and Christmas Creek, before starting his painting career. His strong connection to his parents’ Countries is reflected in his art, as he paints the sites he visited as a child and the stories he was told as a young boy. His work is typified by fine brushstrokes that indicate falling rain, symbolising the power of the Wandjina.

Gordon is the last remaining senior Woddorddaa man painting the Wandjina.

Artwork Description
The Wandjina is the creator spirit that belongs to us (the Wororra, Ngarinyin and Wunumbul people). He is the one that created everything, he also gave us our culture, law and songs and even the dreaming of each child before they are born.

The Ungud Snake was the chosen animal in helping with the creation of mother earth, creating rivers, gorges, stream’s and helped with the formation of the earth. Still today it lives in these dark deep water hole’s in our country which doesn’t want to be disturbed.

Gordon Barunga, Wandjina & Ungud (cloud and rain spirits & totem), etching on Hahnemuhle paper, 67cm x 48cm, 2023. Image courtesy of Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre
Anyupa Nelson,  Image courtesy of Ninuku Arts

Anyupa Nelson

Art Centre: Ninuku Arts
Anyupa Nelson was born around 1968 in Pipalyatjara and is the daughter of Angampa Martin, a renowned Irrunytju artist. Growing up in Pipalyatjara with her family, Anyupa was always surrounded by art, and enjoyed going out into the bush with her mum and dad, siblings, and aunties to catch bush tucker and spend time together. Today, Anyupa still enjoys going out to the bush with the ladies and her knowledge about the land and animals
is remarkable. Anyupa learned to paint from the older women in at Ninuku, including her mother, who painted stories of her Country in Western Australia. Anyupa’s work is inspired by her mother’s country and a determination to support her family, including her grandchildren.

Through her art and tjukurpa, she keeps her culture strong and connects herself to the land and the stories that flow through it. She is excited to teach her daughters paint at Ninuku with her and the other ladies when they are ready.

Now, Anyupa lives in Pipalyatjara with her husband, grandchildren, and extended family, and across from her sister, Angela Watson. Together they spend their days in the studio, bringing both quiet calm and laughter to the art centre and the artists.

Artwork Description
Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters Story) is a major Tjukurpa for Irrunytju (Wingellina) and across the central Australian deserts. The seven sisters travelled from Kaliwarra to Wannan in Western Australia, stopping at significant sites and rockholes including Kuru Ala, a sacred place for women. They encountered a lustful man named Wati Nyiru, who chased them around the desert. Some of the details of this Tjukurpa (Dreaming story) are sacred and can’t be repeated.

Anyupa art pops with vibrant colours that just leap off the canvas, bringing joy to anyone who sees them and making them feel happy.

Anyupa Nelson, Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters Story), Acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm, 2024, Image courtesy of Ninuku Arts
Sprotin Bangarr. Image courtesy of Injalak Arts and Crafts

Sprotin Bangarr

Art Centre: Injalak Arts and Crafts
Sprotin is an emerging artist and screen printer. He is employed by Injalak to print and gather natural painting materials such as stringy bark and ochres. Sprotin is also engaged in the Media Unit, where he takes photographs and videos for various projects. This year, Sprotin was selected to participate in the ANKA Artsworker program.
Artwork Description
Yawkyawk is the Kunwinjku term used for young women but also for female water spirits that have fish tails as shown in this work. Sometimes they are described as ‘mermaids’ who live in trees and water in special places in West Arnhem Land. Yawkyawk start out in a tadpole-like form, as they get older they grow fish tails and spend most of their time in the water but are able to sit on the banks of billabongs. When fully grown they are able to change their tails into legs and walk on land to forage for food. They also change into dragonflies at the end of the wet season, which signifies to the bininj (aboriginal people) the rains have finished. Yawkyawk are said to have namarnkol (barramundi) as pets and that Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent serves as their protector. These spirits are guardians of sacred waterholes
Sprotin Bangarr, Yawkyawk (water spirit), ochre and acrylic on arches paper, 41cm x 61cm, 2023. Image courtesy of Injalak Arts and Crafts

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