Les Mirrikkurriya’s bark painting ‘Bolung’ (Rainbow Serpent) from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, NT. Palya Art C-2872

Les Mirrikkurriya's bark painting 'Bolung’ (Rainbow Serpent) from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, NT. Palya Art C-2872

Artist: Les Mirrikkurriya
Language: Rembarrnga
DOB: Circa 1938
Area: Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
Artwork: Bark painting
Title: ‘Bolung’ (Rainbow Serpent)
Date: Circa 1993
Medium: Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Size: 1310 x 610 mm
Palya Art C-2872
Price: AUD $2,900.00

The Rainbow Snake is a powerful mythological figure for all Aboriginal people throughout Australia. Characteristics of the rainbow serpent vary greatly from group to group and also depending on the site. Often viewed as a female generative figure, the rainbow serpent can sometimes also be male. She has both powers of creation and destruction and is most strongly associated with rain, monsoon seasons and of course the colour seen in rainbows which arc across the sky like a giant serpent. For Aboriginal people in Northern Australia, the rainbow serpent is said to be active during the wet season.

Often she is associated with billabongs and freshwater springs where she resides and she is responsible for the production of most water plants such as water lilies, water vines, algae and palms which grow near water. The roar of waterfalls in the escarpment country is said to be her voice. Large holes in stoney banks of rivers and cliff faces are said to be her tracks. She is held in awe because of her apparent ability to renew her life by shedding her skin and emerging anew. Aboriginal myths about the rainbow serpent often describe her as a fearful creature who swallows humans only to regurgitate them, transformed by her blood. The white ochre used by artists to create the brilliant white paint for bark paintings, body decoration and in the past, rock art, is said to be the faeces of the rainbow serpent.

Aboriginal people today respect and care-take sacred sites where the rainbow serpent is said to reside Often certain activities are forbidden at these places, for fear that the wrath of the great snake will cause sickness, accidents and even tempests. This is not always the case however and there are many rainbow serpent sites today where people may enter to hunt, fish or swim.

Mirrikkurriya’s depiction of Bolung is in a manner often found in the rock art of Western Arnhem Land. This characteristic depiction often includes a tassled crest on the back of the head and the tail. Water-lily plants (BNymphaea spp.) are growing out of the body of Bolung in this painting.
Source: Murray Garde, Cultural Research Officer, Mangingrida Arts & Culture.

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