David Malangi’s “Gunmirringu funeral scene”, painted in 1983, was one of eight bark paintings he made and placed on exhibition in the 1983 Australian Perspecta at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, as a land rights statement. The works were created and put together after discussions with the artist about his concerns for the safety of his sacred sites in Arnhem Land, under threat from mining and commercial fishing. Gunmirringu and the great ancestral hunter. These themes are central in Malangi’s art works. Gunmirringu is shown lying in state. His clansmen are around him, holding clapsticks, singing ceremonial songs and dancing. Darrpa, the deadly brown snake, which bit and killed Gunmirringu, is shown alongside. Around him also are the spoils of his last hunt: yams, nuts and a butchered kangaroo, which commonly refers to the death of a person. Gunmurringu’s was the first funeral, and this story tells of how death came into the world. It is enacted through ceremony and art to assist the passage of the soul after a member of the clan dies. In this composition, the ceremony is framed within two flowering stringy bark trees. These trees often refer to the raga, or white berry bush, under which Gunmirringu sat, cooking his food, when the snake struck.
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