John Mawurndjul Website: Ngayi ngakarrme bokenh—mankerrnge la mankare

Jean-Pierre Chabrol, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Australia

Abstract

A digital resource space, johnmawurndjul.com—driven and owned by the artist—was developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) to support the major retrospective exhibition "John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new." The website is a keeping place and digital platform to share the work, language, and knowledge of renowned Australian artist John Mawurndjul, a Kuninjku master bark painter from Western Arnhem Land. The legacy of colonisation in Australia often manifests in speaking on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people without consultation or consent, a trend that has been subverted by giving the artist’s voice priority in every space within the website. The voice of the artist, particularly the audio-recorded glossary of Kuninjku terms, is crucial to the website as a resource for the artist’s community, Maningrida, as well as addressing the complexity of transmitting complex sacred knowledge and concepts to a general audience. A 40-minute video, narrated by Mawurndjul, was filmed in Western Arnhem Land and recorded in Kuninjku, with dual Kuninjku and English subtitles. Also, an additional six short videos by subject were produced to support audience engagement and the learning resources. With respect to community cultural protocols, various acknowledgements to country and a warning that the website contains images of those deceased was included. The website is integrated with the backend of the MCA website CMS (Django platform with Wagtail, react frontend framework and pattern library. This project has highlighted the significance of listening and documenting, and placing the artist’s work and voice foremost in every aspect of the exhibition. The website will remain a tool for language learners, particularly in the Maningrida community. Indigenous languages are constantly under threat in Australia, and Kuninjku has only 400 speakers. The website serves as a guide to the exhibition but is also a tool for the Kuninjku language.

Keywords: keeping place, digital platform, language, digital decolonisation, voice of the artist, videos

Ngayi ngakarrme bokenh–mankerrnge la mankare

“The old ways of doing things have changed into the new ways. The new generation does things differently. But me, I have two ways. I am the old and the new.” —John Mawurndjul

A digital resource space, johnmawurndjul.com (https://www.johnmawurndjul.com/)—driven and owned by the artist—was developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) to support the major retrospective exhibition John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new (MCA, Sydney, 6 July–23, September 2018; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 October 2018–28 January 2019; and touring nationally from 14 March 2019).

A Keeping Place

The website johnmawurndjul.com is a keeping place and digital platform to share the work, language, and knowledge of renowned Australian artist John Mawurndjul, a Kuninjku master bark painter from Western Arnhem Land. The site was developed with more than two years of consultation with the artist and in association with Maningrida Arts and Culture, Maningrida, Northern Territory.

The design of the website was interconnected with the development of the exhibition and 400-page catalogue. Language was a critical component, and the extent to which Kuninjku, the language spoken by Mawurndjul, has been embedded in the website, exhibition spaces and catalogue, is a first in an Australian art museum.

The website is integrated with the backend of the MCA website CMS (Django platform with Wagtail, react front-end framework and pattern library), which was crucial to the cost and maintenance of the site.

 

A 40-minute Video, Narrated by the artist

A microsite separate from the main MCA website was needed to support the shared and touring nature of the exhibition, and allowed for greater detail and scope for each artwork than an embedded exhibition page could achieve. Organised by place, following the curatorial methodology, the 160-plus artworks are accompanied by an extended artist biography, Kuninjku glossary, and a learning resource.

A 40-minute video, narrated by Mawurndjul, was filmed in Western Arnhem Land and recorded in Kuninjku, with dual Kuninjku and English subtitles. The digital team produced an additional six short videos by subject to support audience engagement and the learning resources. With respect to community cultural protocols, various acknowledgements to country, and a warning that the website contains images of those deceased was included.

Synchronisation of multiple language via Subtitle Edit Pro

Listening, Documenting

This project has highlighted the significance of listening and documenting, and placing the artist’s work and voice foremost in every aspect of an exhibition. As John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new tours nationally until 2020, the website will remain a tool for language learners, particularly in the Maningrida community. Indigenous languages are constantly under threat in Australia, and Kuninjku has only 300 or 400 speakers. The website serves as a guide to the exhibition but is also a tool for the Kuninjku language.

During two years of production, two processes occurred simultaneously: a classic design process, operating with rigorous steps, to deliver an exhibition website aligned with the visual identity of the exhibition and built into the MCA website framework; and a video process, which was more organic and responsive to the Maningrida community, the artist and even the season cycle. While filming in Maningrida, we quickly discovered the importance of language and the artist’s desire to be heard and understood in Kuninjku with a minimum of interpretation.

 

A Language Component, A Teaching Space

The language component is a very important feature that sets the website apart from other Aboriginal art documentation online. Currently, Kuninjku language classes are supported in Maningrida for non-Indigenous residents and employees of various local organisations, and the material on the website is being used in those classes. Multiple organisations (for example, Charles Darwin University and the Australian National University) have accessed the site for language teaching ideas.

Partial screenshot of extensive glossary

Transmitting Complex Sacred Knowledge

The legacy of colonisation in Australia often manifests in speaking on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people without consultation or consent, a trend that has been subverted by giving the artist’s voice priority in every space within the website. The voice of the artist, particularly the audio-recorded glossary of Kuninjku terms, is crucial to the website as a resource for the artist’s community, as well as addressing the complexity of transmitting complex sacred knowledge and concepts to a general audience. The following quotes are from John Mawurndjul”

Because I have taught other people about my art through my language, that will leave a legacy for them. They will have a better understanding of the things I have done, because it’s been done through my language. 

What’s different about this show, it’s my language, my words for the first time are appearing in the Kuninjku language.

Because this show has my words in my language, that will be a legacy for the future when I am gone.

Learning activity:
John Mawurndjul’s contemporary interpretation of a cultural practice.
The value of ‘the old’.
The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ can co-exist.

About the Artist

John Mawurndjul AM (born 1952, Kubukkan near Marrkolidjban, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia) is celebrated for his mastery of rarrk (fine-painted cross-hatching), a tradition shared by generations of Kuninjku artists. The exhibition of bark paintings and sculptures tells the stories of Kuninjku culture and the significant locations surrounding the artist’s home in Western Arnhem Land.

 

Resources

https://www.johnmawurndjul.com/

https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/john-mawurndjul-i-am-the-old-and-the-new/

https://www.mca.com.au/stories-and-ideas/art-translation-murray-garde-and-john-mawurndjul/

https://www.mca.com.au/stories-and-ideas/documentary-john-mawurndjul-i-am-the-old-and-the-new-2018/

Organisation using the language resource:

https://www.facebook.com/bininjkunwok/

https://bininjkunwok.org.au/


Cite as:
Chabrol, Jean-Pierre. "John Mawurndjul Website: Ngayi ngakarrme bokenh—mankerrnge la mankare." MW19: MW 2019. Published February 15, 2019. Consulted .
https://mw19.mwconf.org/paper/john-mawurndjul-website-ngayi-ngakarrme-bokenh-mankerrnge-la-mankare/