'Majumbu (‘Old Harry’) and the Spencer-Cahill bark painting collection'
Identifying the artists of some of Australia's earliest collected bark paintings as well as rock paintings in the early 1900s. Authors: Paul S. C. Taçon, Luke Taylor, Sally K. May, Joakim Goldhahn, Andrea Jalandoni, Alex Ressel & Kenneth Mangiru. Australian Archaeology, published online 22 Feb 2023.
Frank Nalowerd at Djumuban with crocodile and other rock paintings
George Chaloupka, November 1974, courtesy of the
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
From 1912, British anthropologist W. Baldwin Spencer and buffalo-shooter Paddy Cahill collected 163 bark paintings made by artists who also painted in rock shelters in western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Spencer made detailed notes about the bark paintings, secret/sacred objects, and other material culture he collected and some rock art, as well as genealogies and other details of the Aboriginal people he encountered but did not record the names of the artists. In general, the names and life stories of the individuals who made most Aboriginal archaeological artefacts or ethnographic objects and paintings now in museums across the world are not known. We have recently begun to address this for western Arnhem Land contact period art and in this paper focus on an elder, Majumbu (‘Old Harry’), who made numerous rock paintings as well as at least eight of the Spencer-Cahill bark paintings. We use his work to begin a new interpretation of the importance of the Spencer-Cahill Collection in relation to land-based religion and show that knowing the names of the artists behind the collection, as well as related rock paintings, puts their work and the entire collection in new meaningful contexts.
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→ Companion piece in The Conversation: 'Returning a name to an artist: the work of Majumbu, a previously unknown Australian painter'.