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  • Rebekah Raymond

A new acquisition unlocks a mystery in our Aboriginal Art Collection

With thanks to our Supporters of Aboriginal Art, MAGNT has recently acquired a rare 1960s bark painting and ceremonial adornments attributed to the important Jawoyn Elder, song master and composer Djoli Laiwanga OAM (1925-1998).

Recent acquisition: Djoli Laiwanga, untitled 1967
Djoli Laiwanga, untitled 1967. Purchased with funds donated by the MAGNT Supporters of Aboriginal Art, 2023. MAGNT Collection.

Hailing from the Wugularr (Beswick) and Barunga region, Djoli was known for his music and his lifelong collaboration with didjeridu (mago) player David Blanasi, as well as collaborations with actor and dancer David Gulpilil AM, dancer Dick Plummer, and many senior men from Arnhem Land. From the 1960s onwards, he toured internationally with these men and the Aboriginal Theatre Foundation. Despite being celebrated for his music and dance achievements, little is known about Djoli as an artist and his bark paintings are rare.

This acquisition has unveiled an artistic lineage previously unknown to MAGNT.

A 1960s bark with no attribution recorded has sat in the MAGNT Collection since the 1980s. It was generously donated by Mrs Ibbetson whose late husband collected it in Barunga during the late 1960s.

Djoli Laiwanga, untitled 1966-1974. Gift of Mrs Ibbetson, 1980. MAGNT Collection.
Djoli Laiwanga, untitled 1966-1974. Gift of Mrs Ibbetson, 1980. MAGNT Collection.

Upon analysis, this bark is near identical to the acquired Djoli Laiwanga bark. Both bark paintings feature Djoli’s unique approach to painting the figurative and secular. Smaller panels with decorated borders segment the bark like a storyboard. Both barks depict in remarkable detail the life of the Jawoyn people as seen by Djoli Laiwanga during his life.

This revelation has provided history and context for both barks, and a third bark in the MAGNT Collection.

Further research has revealed the next generation was inspired by Djoli Laiwanga. MAGNT holds a bark painting by Willie Martin Jayalama purchased in 1983 at the Katherine Show by past MAGNT Director Colin Jack-Hinton. Research has connected that Willie is Djoli Laiwanga’s son-in-law and with this new information, it is now clear how significantly he was stylistically guided by his father-in-law.

This recent acquisition demonstrates how powerful it is that MAGNT can acquire works that deepen our understanding of artistic and cultural practices and legacies across the Northern Territory. It also unlocks the works that are already cared for in the Collection and enables us to better represent and connect with communities.

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