The bark paintings of Arnhem Land in northern Australia are among the continent’s most distinctive art forms. The black background of this work indicates that it is likely a midtwentieth century work by an artist of the Ingura people of Groote Eylandt, a large island off Arnhem Land’s northeast coast. Contemporary Arnhem Land bark paintings likely originated from the paintings formerly made for recreational or instructional purposes on the interiors of temporary barkcovered shelters built for protection against the torrential downpours of the annual rainy season. As these bark paintings became known to Western audiences, Arnhem Land painters began to create independent works on sheets of flattened bark for the fine art market. The painting seen here appears to depict the bust of a fantastic creature with the crested head of a bird and the neck and shoulders of a human. It probably represents a being from the Dreaming (creation period), when the primordial ancestors of birds and animals walked the earth in human, or human-like, forms.
Catholic Church Missionary Society, Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Mission, Australia; [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978
Sutton, Peter, Christopher Anderson, Philip Jones, Françoise Dussart, and Steven Hemming. Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia. New York: George Braziller, 1988.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 86, 143-44.
Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), p. 103, 8.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 65.