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Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm
  • Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm
  • Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm
Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm
Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm

Simon Namunjdja, Mimih Spirit Sculpture, 103cm

  • Aboriginal Artist - Simon Namunjdja
  • Community - Maningrida
  • Homeland - Mankorlod
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Maningrida Arts and Culture
  • Catalogue number - 91-22
  • Materials - Leichhardt Tree with Ochre Pigment and PVA Fixative
  • Size(cm) - H103 W4 D4 (irregular shape)
  • Display - This artwork may require a stand or hanging mechanism

The mimih spirit exists in a realm that runs parallel to and mirrors many facets of human life, also demonstrating the deep sense of time and place understood by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Such spirits feature importantly in relation to Aboriginal spirituality, cosmology, social and moral tales as well as ritual. As is true with the multiple mediums employed by artists of West Arnhem Land, the development of artistic style and form is in line with an awareness by the artist that the work produced is predominantly made for a broader audience. Whether show in a national or international context these works communicate and exist in a particular space that is cross-cultural and simultaneously so particular to the Arnhem region.

The mimih sits within a complex and important pedagogical and religious body of knowledge which links Kuninjku people to their distinctive escarpment homelands. Young Kuninjku artists, or apprentices, employ the mimih as an important exercise for the practice of the rarrk technique, as it could be achieved on a smaller surface area before, being attempted in larger scale, on pieces of bark. The mimih serves a purpose for those young artists first learning to carve in a social space of sharing and innovating. The initial mimih manifestation was a large form that almost mirrored the anatomy of a human and at this stage the sculptures have been likened to morkuy carvings visible in eastern Arnhem Land. Contemporaneously, mimih are depicted in a refined, slender, even emaciated form with a broad range of facial expressions giving both individual character to, and denoting the potential volatility and humour that mimih spirits are notable for in their interaction with bininj (humans). The sculptures are frequently carved from the thin trunks of softwoods such as kapok (bombax ceiba or cottonwood) kurrajong, beach hibiscus or leichardt and are painted with earth pigments for their colouring and design.

A leading figure engaging the spirit in visual storytelling was Crusoe Kuningbal, a Kuninjku man, who while traveling was familiarised with carving styles from the east of Arnhem at the mission in Milingimbi pre-dating World War II. This showing a notable connection and interaction of different language groups across such space. As well as travel and the development of art forms being informed by cross cultural dialogues within northern Aboriginal language groups. The mimih became a valued inclusion in performance and public ceremony by Kuninjku people like Kuningbal. At times these ceremonies were performed for extended language groups in the local region.

Now a familiar and broadly depicted figure of iconography, it is important to acknowledge the development of this quite recent sculptural tradition. The depiction of this particular spirit being, once used as an addition to the sharing of song cycles and ceremony, has since been elevated to a prominent form and subject of contemporary sculpture. Variation in the creation of mimih acts as an indication of the individualism of each artist and their stylistic markers. Additionally significant to note is that in the space of the past thirty years the mimih has begun being produced by multiple language groups residing in the Maningrida area including the traditional owners of Maningrida, the Ndjébbana, speaking Kunibidji as well as Gurrgoni people who have strong ties to Kuninjku.

*Maningrida Arts & Culture acknowledge the work of many academic and non-academic voices when writing on this topic, it is important to note Luke Taylor, who’s broad research has informed this text.

Simon Namunjdja is part of the younger generation of artists from the renowned Namunjdja family who continue the strong legacy and reputation for exquisite mark-making and attention to detail.

An art movement that is striking, political and enduring: this is what contemporary artists in Maningrida and the surrounding homelands have built, powered by their ancestral connections to country and djang.

Ways of learning and schools of art in Arnhem Land are based around a system of passing knowledge and information on to others. The art here has its genesis in body design, rock art and cultural practices, in concert with more than 50 years of collaborations, travel and political action to retain ownership of country. Values and law are expressed through language, imagery, manikay (song), bunggul (dance), doloppo bim (bark painting), sculptures, and kun-madj (weaving) – the arts.

The artists’ transformation of djang into contemporary artistic expression has intrigued people around the world: art curators and collectors, and stars including Yoko Ono, Jane Campion, David Attenborough and Elton John. Pablo Picasso said of Yirawala’s paintings, ‘This is what I’ve been trying to achieve all my life.’

Yirawala (c.1897–1976) was a legendary Kuninjku leader, artist, land-rights activist and teacher, and his artwork was the first of any Indigenous artist to be collected by the National Gallery of Australia as part of a policy to represent in depth the most significant figures in Australian art.

Maningrida Arts & Culture is based on Kunibídji country in Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. The area where artists live encompasses 7,000 square kilometres of land and sea, and over 100 clan estates, where people speak more than 12 distinct languages. Aboriginal people in this region are still on country, surviving and resilient because their country is the centre of their epistemology, their belief system, culture – djang.

Artists’ works from the larger Maningrida region can be seen in collections and institutions around the world. We work with museums, contemporary galleries and high-end retailers both nationally and internationally on projects throughout the year.

Text courtesy: Maningrida Arts and Culture

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