Bark Painting, 1940s–50s
Ingura people, Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory, Australia
Bark, paint; H. 12 in. (30.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1462)
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 it is likely a mid-twentieth-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 bark-covered 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.
This painting 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 (primordial creation period), when the ancestors of birds and animals walked the earth in human, or humanlike, forms.