Wandjina Art from the Kimberley

Wandjina figures are some of the most visually striking of all images in Kimberley art.

The Worrorra, Wunambal, and Ngarinyin people of the north-western and central Kimberley say that the Wandjina are the creator beings of the Dreaming, and that they made their world and all that it contains. They are found in many rock art sites in caves and rock shelters throughout the Kimberley.

Wandjina are usually painted as full-length, or head and shoulder, figures, either standing or lying horizontally. Their large mouthless faces feature enormous black eyes flanking a beak-like nose. The head is usually surrounded by a band with outward radiating lines. Elaborate head-dresses are both the hair of the Wandjinas and clouds. Long lines coming out from the hair are the feathers which Wandjinas wore and the lightning which they control. Wandjina ceremonies to ensure the timely beginning of the monsoon wet season and sufficient rainfall are held during December and January, following which the rains usually begin (Source: Western Australian Museum).

Aboriginal people believe that if the Wandjina are offended then they will take their revenge by calling up lightning to strike the offender dead, or the rain to flood the land and drown the people, or the cyclone with its winds to devastate the country. These are the powers which the Wandjinas can use.

The picture on the righ is by David Mowaljarlai. It is in natural ochres and pigments and was painted in 1997 as one of a series of images to record the main dreaming stories for his country in the west Kimberley.

Wandjina by David Mowaljarlai

Some of the best known artists who have painted Wandjina images are the Karedada family from Kalumburu, a remote community in the far north of the Kimberley. Lily Karedada is one of the most accomplished of contemporary Wandjina artists and she works with natural ochres and natural glue or acrylic binder on both bark and canvas. Lily is married to Jack Karedada, another well known Wandjina artist. Roslyn Karedada (Ngalirrman), the wife of Jack’s brother Louis, has a distinctive style, using strong contrasting tones of red, white and black. Kevin Waina is another accomplished Wandjina artist from Kalumburu.