Mawalan Marika

  • Born 1908 in Yirrkala, Northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
  • Died 1967 in Yirrkala, Australia

Mawalan Marika was the senior ceremonial leader of the Rirratjingu clan in Northeast Arnhem Land and an important indigenous Australian artist of the Yolngu people. The head of a veritable artistic dynasty, he transgressed traditional gender divisions by teaching his daughters as well as his sons how to paint. Many of his family members—including his brother Mathaman, son Wandjuk, and daughters Banduk and Dhuwarrwarr—are well-known artists. He considered art an important tool in disseminating Yolngu culture, and helped to pioneer the marketing of cross-hatched bark painting in the 1950s. His compositions include both traditional geometric elements and totemic figuration, depicting spiritual and everyday narratives. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he created legendary illustrations of the ancestral Djang’kawu song cycle on bark and in carved objects adorned with feathers and ceremonial body designs. Beyond his artistic success, Marika passionately advocated for indigenous rights. He presided over the Rirratjingu during the establishment of a Methodist mission in Yirrkala in 1935 and was an informant to anthropologists Catherine and Roland Berndt. In 1963 Marika was instrumental in sending a petition on bark to the Australian House of Representatives protesting the mining of Yolngu land.