THE National Museum of Australia in Canberra has just acquired a $1.2-million artwork by the celebrated late Kimberley artist, Rover Thomas.
“Jabanunga aka Goorialla” (The Rainbow Serpent) was created in 1996, at the Warmun community art centre in WA’s east Kimberley region, and is considered one of the artist’s most significant pieces.
It depicts the Rainbow Serpent penetrating the Earth, following a subterranean journey to the sea in the wake of Cyclone Tracy’s destruction of Darwin, in 1973. Painted in natural ochres, the 2.7-metre x 1.8-metre canvas reflects a master artist at the peak of his powers, museum staff say.
The work joins three other Rover Thomas paintings in the National Museum’s national historic collection. His works are also held by the National Gallery, the Art Gallery of WA, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Art Gallery of SA.
“Jabanunga aka Goorialla” was gifted to the National Museum under the federal government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Blanche, director of the Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Gallery in Victoria, in honour of his late wife, Lauraine Diggins, who was an internationally respected art dealer and champion of indigenous art.
“During her lifetime Lauraine was determined to do whatever she could and use her considerable influence to ensure that many of the important art works created in Australia and overseas became part of the national estate,” Blanche said.
Head of the NMA’s Indigenous Knowledges Curatorial Centre, Margo Ngawa Neale, said the painting is exemplary in the way it speaks to the shared history between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
“It simultaneously draws on the ancestral power of Jabanunga (the Rainbow Serpent) while commenting on the natural and unnatural destructive forces of Cyclone Tracy and mining.
In 1975 Thomas had a series of powerful dreams, where the spirit of a deceased female visited him. At the end of her travels, she stood on Kelly’s Knob in Kununurra and witnessed the destruction of Darwin during Cyclone Tracy. Many elders in the Kimberley interpreted the destruction of Darwin as an act caused by the wrath of the Rainbow Serpent and was compelled to create a joonba (song and dance cycle) depicting the epic sequence of events.
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