Untitled (Buralku - Spirit Place for the Dead) bears artist's name, title and description of the story on a label on the reverse natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 76 x 37.5cm
PROVENANCE: Painted in North East Arnhem Land circa 1960 Planet Corroboree, Byron Bay Private collection
The painting depicts part of the mortuary ceremonies of the Rirratjingu clan from North East Arnhem Land. The following description applies to the lower panel of the painting. In the top left corner of the bottom panel the spirit of the deceased, who appears with horn-like ears, is guided by three mokuy spirits to meet clan members who had previously died. The horned spirit appears again at the centre of panel being prepared for its journey to the land of dead. Two ancestors play didjeridu and clap sticks to which women dance in mourning. Two banyan trees appear in the lower corners.
In the top panel rays of light from the setting sun, a metaphor for one's passing from life to the afterlife, are coloured by the dust kicked up by the dancers' movements.
A similar scene is depicted by Mathaman in a work illustrated in H.M. Groger-Wurm, Australian Aboriginal Bark Paintings and their Mythological Interpretation: Vol.1, Eastern Arnhem Land, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1973, p.111, pl.161. Another related work by the artist depicting the Morning Star Ceremony in the collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia is illustrated in M.A. O'Ferrall, Keepers of the Secrets: Aboriginal Art from Arnhemland in the Collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 1990, pp.112-3, pl.134.
The descriptive label on the reverse of the image reads in part: One day the spirit arrived with long ears, they all felt him and sent him back to earth because he was not dead. When he eventually died and went to the spirit place they had to cut off his ears to let him in.
The rays in the top of the picture represent three things: The orange colour is dust rising from all the dancing with the arrival of the new spirit; the black lines indicate the path to other spirit places and the red lines indicate the message going out when a new spirit has arrived at this particular place.'