Owen Yalandja - Yawk Yawk spirit carvings

Owen Yalandja (b.1962)

The history of Maningrida sculpture is intimately linked to Owen Yalandja?s family. Yalandja?s father, Crusoe Kuningbal invented the representation of the Mimih spirit in sculptural form in the 1960s for use in a trade ceremony called Mamurrng. In the 1970s, Kuningbal made these carvings for the art market and after his death in 1984 his sons Crusoe Kurddal and Owen Yalandja and wife Lena Kuriniya continued in the production of these sculptures. Since the 1990s, many artists have started to produce carvings and Maningrida is now renowned for its sculptural representations of spirit beings. Unlike many Maningrida artists, Yalandja only sculpts and has never developed any interest in painting on bark. His repertoire is almost exclusively concerned with representations of the yawkyawk spirits - mermaid- like figures with fish tails- in sculpted form. Yawkyawk or young spirit girls live in billabongs and their shadows can occasionally be seen as they flee the smell of humans who approach the water. They are imagined to have been girls who transformed into mermaid- like figures with fish tails. Yalandja is a senior member of the Dangkorlo clan, the custodians of an important yawkywak site. Members of the Dangkorlo clan have set up their outstation community at Barrihdjowkkeng near a billabong that is a Yirridjdja moiety sacred site for the yawkyawk spirits. Yalandja has spiritual and practical responsibility for this yawkyawk site and only represents yawkyawks from this particular billabong. In the early 1990s, Yalandja experimented with the dot patterns his father taught him, and created ?V? shaped marks to suggest scales of the watery beings. As Yalandja says: ?I make it [yawkyawk] according to my individual ideas (?)My father used to decorate them with dots. A long time ago, he showed me how to do this. But this style is my own, no one else does them like this.? Yalandja only uses kurrajong tree for carving and carefully selects trunks which can be curvilinear to give his figures a sinuous appearance. Fat or skinny, short or tall, his yawkyawk spirits seem to always float. Yalandja now makes them in different colours: black, red, white or yellow. The white yawkyawks are a recent addition to his repertoire. He started to make them in early 2007 and Yalandja recently stated when asked why he was now making white yawkyawk: The colours I use have particular meanings [not public] and only some people can understand their secret meanings. For his fifth solo show, Yalandja has chosen to mainly concentrate on a series of white yawkyawks.
This exhibition follows his successful participation in ?Culture warriors?, the inaugural Triennial of Indigenous art held at the National Gallery of Australia in October 2007.

Apolline Kohen, Arts Director, Maningrida Arts & Culture
April 2008


Owen Yalandja - Yawk Yawk spirit carvings
from Maningrida NT
14 May - 7 June 2008

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Please note, works in previous exhibitions may no longer be available, please visit our stockroom for available works