An image of Yawkyawk

Owen Yalandja

(Australia 1960 – )

Maningrida, Arnhem region, Barrihdjowkkeng, Arnhem region
Language group
Kuninjku, Arnhem region


Other titles:
Yawk Yawk
Not on display
Further information

Owen Yalandja's 'Yawkyawk' figure is a particularly beautiful example of this genre from central Arnhem Land. The slight curvature of the wood accentuates the elongated body of the figure while the fine detail of the painted surface is intended to represent the scales of the 'mermaid's' tail.

For many years Owen Yalandja's father Crusoe Kuningbal was the exclusive carver of mimih figures. They derive from much earlier sculptures made from paperbark and bush string. Like his father's Mimi figures, Yalandja's 'Yawkyawk' figure is an adaptation or innovation of a traditional cultural theme and Yalandja has elaborated the tradition once again by greatly increasing the size of the figure.

In Kunwinjku belief the creator of the Liverpool River region in Yingarna, the Rainbow Serpent. Yingarna's first born was a son, Ngalyod, also a Rainbow Serpent. Yingarna's second born was a daughter, Ngalkunburruyaymi (also know as Yawkyawk), a freshwater spirit resembling a mermaid in the western tradition although significant distinctions exist. Yawkyawks emerge from the water from time to time and sun themselves on rocks drying their long hair. Yawkyawks can travel across land causing people to be wary in the vicinity of their sites. They are also strongly associated with fertility.

© Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2002

Place of origin
Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
natural pigments on wood
285.0 cm height
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Purchased 2002
Accession number
© Paddy Japaljarri Stewart. Licensed by Copyright Agency