Goshawk, by Brian Nyinawanga circa 1984. Collection MCA, as featured in
The Native Born. © MCA
Sculpture from Central Arnhem Land encompasses both woven figure objects and wood carvings. For the purpose of bringing the life force of creator beings into sacred and public ceremonies, figurative representations of snakes, birds, and animals are made in symbolic shapes and realistic representations. Such objects form a major part of the ceremony, to be danced with or around and then to be discarded after the ceremony.
Gulu, a softwood from the Kapok tree is used in the contemporary carving of figures representing creator beings and totemic species.
In eastern Arnhem Land in particular, Aboriginal people were taught by their ancestral heroes to place the bones of the deceased in hollow logs. These dupun, or hollow logs, naturally hollowed out by termites are decorated with sacred clan designs, as the body had been. The hollow log coffins were placed upright in the camp with the bones inside and left to decay naturally. Occasionally dupun may be sent back to the clan's country to be erected in the bush where rain, winds, and bushfires ensure that the spirit of the deceased will return to its source.
Today most dupun are created for sculptural rather than burial purposes, though the symbolism is by no means lost. Artists from Ramingining and the surrounding region collaborated in 1988 to put together The Aboriginal Memorial, now housed in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Perhaps the most important work of art produced in the last 200 years, the Aboriginal Memorial commemorates all Aboriginal people who have lost their lives defending their land since 1788.