Wamud Namok AO
Margie West AM writes about Wamud Namok AO
Wamud Namok AO, Mok Clan, Wamud subsection, Duwa moiety
Kunwinjku language (Kundedjnjenghmi dialect) WAMUD NAMOK was one of most respected and well-known artists working in the Western Arnhem Land painting tradition. He was born about 1926 at Kukulumurr, a place meaning growling water deep in Mann River region with its massive sandstone escarpments and extensive waterways.
He grew up far from the influence of western society, following the seasonal circuit with his family; moving though various clan countries, attending ceremonies, visiting relatives and food gathering. During this early part of his life, Wamud learnt how to paint on the rocky overhangs and outcrops that provided rough but suitable painting surfaces as well as excellent camping shelters.
His main instruction was from his father Nanjyorluk and today paintings by both Wamud and his father can still be found in rock shelters throughout this region. Wamud also painted the inner sheets of bark shelters that were commonly erected for protection during the wet season.
The style of painting he adopted was similar to his father’s – large full-bodied figures with x-ray motifs and fine line work characteristic of the Mann River region that is roughly on the boundary separating the western Kunwinjku from those from the east.
As a young man Wamud walked southwards to the Katherine region where he took up employment at the Maranboy tin mines. He was given the nickname ‘Lofty’ by one of the white workers here because of his tall stature. With the advent of World War II Wamud worked at the army camp at Mataranka, then as a stockman and a timber cutter.
In the early 1950s he moved to Oenpelli (Gunbalanya) Mission where he undertook a variety of jobs: buffalo shooting, saw milling and gardening, with a dedication that earned him another nickname ‘Wamud the worker’. He made the decision to become a bark painter in the late 1960s after the linguist Peter Carroll took over the coordination of the mission art and craft enterprise.
Wamud painted at Oenpelli alongside his peers Kalarriya ‘Jimmy’ Namarnyilk, Bob Namundja and Dick Nguliengulie Murrumurru, while teaching less experienced artists such as Narokka and Peter Nabarlambarl. Most other Kunwinjku artists at the time were using rarrk or crosshatching derived from Mardayin ceremonial body decorations. Wamud and his group on the other hand were distinguished by their use of the parallel line work typical of their region’s rock art.
Throughout his life, Wamud has consistently used this fine parallel hatching for the internal decoration of his figures, not only to confirm his rock art affiliations but to also avoid using what he considers to be highly sacred designs.
His skill in rendering the exquisitely fine line work, initially with a sedge grass brush, is most evident in the smaller-scale barks he produced particularly in the early part of his career. When Injalak Arts and Crafts was established at Oenpelli with a full-time arts adviser in 1991, Wamud produced barks while increasingly painting onto sheets of rag paper.
He has also produced a number of prints on paper. As Wamud’s eyesight started to fail with age, his line work inevitably became thicker, but his astonishing eye for detail, the consummate naturalism of his figures and his capacity to convey animation and movement, remains unsurpassed in the region.
Wamud’s ability to precisely capture a wallaby in flight or the delicacy of a possum eating is derived from his encyclopaedic knowledge of the environment. He is also exceptionally knowledgeable about ceremonial law and related sites and stories of the region, providing him with a vast subject repertoire.
He regularly paints plants and animals, hunting scenes, ritual performances, and mythological subjects shared throughout the western region such as Ngalyod the ancestral Rainbow Serpent, and Mimih, Namarrkon and Yawkyawk Spirit Beings. He also paints subjects specific to his Mok clan country, in particular the spirit beings related to Ankung Djang, the Honey Dreaming sites in his Mok clan country.
Since the 1970s Wamud has participated in many commercial group exhibitions, a number of solo shows, and was featured along with Mick Kubarkku in the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory’s major survey show Rainbow Sugarbag and Moon (1995), as well as the Crossing Country, the Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2004) and the National Gallery of Australia’s Culture Warriors National Indigenous Art Triennial (2007). His work is held in major collecting institutions in Australia and in 1999 he was awarded the work on paper prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.
Wamud lived on his ‘Honey Country’ at Kubulwarnamyo. Despite his advanced years he worked tirelessly as a mentor to younger generations of Kunwinjku especially the artists at Injalak Arts and Crafts, while also working with a range of scientists and other researchers on programs as diverse as rock art recording, site mapping, documentary film-making and land management.
In recognition of his role in facilitating partnerships amongst Indigenous experts and scientists for research into fire management, Wamud was awarded the Indigenous Innovation Award at the 2006 Northern Territory Research and Innovation Awards. In 2004 he was also appointed to the Order of Australia in recognition of his life achievements and contribution to Indigenous art and culture.
Wamud was one of the last living links with the rock painting tradition that dates back around forty thousand years in western Arnhem Land. For this alone, many regard him as one of Australia’s national treasures.
Perkins, Hetti (ed), Crossing Country, the alchemy of Western Arnhem Land, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004.
West, Margie (ed), Rainbow Sugarbag and Moon, two artists of the stone country: Bardayal Nadjamerrek and Mick Kubarkku, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 1995.
About Margie West AM
At the time of writing this article Margie West AM was Emeritus Curator of Aboriginal Art & Material Culture at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and has over 30 years curatorial experience in Indigenous art. Some of the international as well as national touring Aboriginal art exhibitions she has curated include, The Inspired Dream; Rainbow Sugarbag and Moon; Kuruwarri; Hermannsburg Potters; Hot Wax, an exhibition of Australian, Aboriginal and Indonesian Batik and Transitions, 17 Years of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. In 1984 Ms West founded the annual Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award and has published extensively on Aboriginal art.