Gabriel Maralngurra was among the founding members of Injalak Arts in the late 1980s, and continues to be a driving force behind the art centre today. He is a senior artist and screen printer, Injalak board member and president, ambassador and mediator for Kunwinjku culture, having worked many years as a tour guide and an Kunwinjku-English translator.
He is continually inspired by the rock art of West Arnhem Land, always referencing and working within this artistic tradition while pursuing formal innovations and new designs.
Gabriel with his work in progress at Injalak Arts.
Where is home for you?
It’s flood country. A bit of stone country. Also, the big flat area that is flood plain country.
You come from a long line of artists, how have they influenced your work?
Yes, my family and my grandfather. My grandfather’s not from this area, he’s from Croker Island. My mothers Father, he was an artist.
He passed away a long time ago.
When I was young I used to watch him paint. That’s how he taught me and taught me stories when I was a kid.
I still follow my grandfather's footsteps because when I paint I think of him. When I paint I know the stories that he told me.
My little girl Gabriella and my eldest son, they paint too.
But I just paint whatever I feel like painting!
Can you tell me about the painting you're working on at the moment?
It’s just two water spirit and two water monitor, water goanna. They live in a sacred waterhole.
That’s what I call it because the tourists ask and I say there are two - the 'water monitor' and the 'land monitor' and it’s easy for them to understand.
What’s the local name for that?
Gabriel's painting in progress - two water monitor and a water goanna, for enquiries call Injalak Arts.
What works of yours have been made into textiles?
Two water monitor and white ingrids and then the Mimih Spirit and then a small design of the long neck turtle for kids.
How do you feel when you see people are wearing the designs?
I feel proud, you know, I feel happy that instead of them buying a painting which doesn’t move around, if it’s on a shirt the design can go anywhere and people will see it and they will ask - where did you buy this?
They will say, that’s from Injalak in Western Arnhem Land and they can go online through a website or Facebook and can order some.
You know what I feel like myself is be proud of my design and happy. Not just myself, but my families too and the Art Centre itself.
I saw the work from 'Get it On!' a few weeks ago in Darwin…It was great! ['Get it On!' is an event run by Injalak Arts inviting clothing designers/makers to create wearable items out of Injalak hand-printed fabrics.]
Yeh, my little girl, Gabriella (Gabriel's daughter), they've got her designs.
They made them into small kids ones.
Dress whatever, pants, shorts and they sold out to!
What do you think of the art work designs getting printed onto fabric and in particular the Mimih Spirit design?
I think Mimih Spirits are very special people, they taught my people how to hunt, collect food, dance, sing.
They were the ones that taught us, they were our teachers. It’s like our ancestors, our great great grandfather and grandmother.
They taught my people the ceremony and all those things that we do these days.
They are good spirits. They look after us even if we go out bush and they come near the fire - especially the elders would come see them and talk to them.They usually live in Stone country, rock and caves you know.
Can women paint the Mimih Spirit?
Gabriella (Gabriel's daughter) is allowed to paint the Mimih Spirit because they are her ancestors and my ancestors too.
They taught her grandfather, my father so the cycle goes on.
That's how we have been taught and we still carry that.
What do you love most about living in the Northern Territory?
Living in Western Arhnhem Land, I like it.
But I’ve been here long enough. Just want to move around, you know.
I’m planning to do more designs before I head out back to my homeland.
Where is your homeland?
Kudjekbinj, Eastern side of Arnhem Land.
That’s the country which is a beautiful place. That’s where my baby dreaming is.
But I cannot paint that now, I’m not allowed to.
My two son’s are looking after it - They are part of land management and caring for the land. My two sons, my eldest one and my second oldest son.
North's Mimih Spirit cushion basking in the afternoon light at Ubirr, Northern Territory.
North's Mimih Spirit cushion in a Melbourne home.