Bark Painting

Artist: Bryyinyuwuy (possibly)

Date: 1940s–1950s

Geography: Australia, Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory

Culture: Ingura people

Medium: Bark, paint

Dimensions: H. 12 x W. 20 x D. 1/4 in. (30.5 x 50.8 x 0.6 cm)

Classification: Bark-Paintings

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 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.