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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Skin group from my father’s mother’s side

by Shirley Purdie

“This is my grandmother from my father, Nambin (black-head snake). This is my aunty (father’s sister) Nyawana (white-chested kangaroo). This is my father’s niece, Nagarra (yellow flowers of the snappy gum tree). This is my great-grandmother (father’s grandmother), Naminjili (curlew bird).”

Shirley has painted the four skin names of her paternal grandmother’s side. These skin totems are different to her mother’s side. For Gija people, there are a total of 16 different skins for men and women combined: eight skins for women that come from paternal and maternal sides, and eight skins for men. Each skin here refers to an animal or plant, and helps Gija people understand their place in society and their relationships between each other, particularly for marriage, and marrying one’s ‘straight-skin.’

Looking at the correct straight skin relationships, Nyawurru (the emu) can marry Nambin, the black-headed snake’s son. Nangari (the crow) can marry Naminjili, the curlew bird’s son, or Nambin’s brother. Nangala (the brolga) can marry Nagarra, the snappy gum flower’s son. Nyajari (the turkey) can marry Nagarra’s brother.

Related information

Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie

Storied portrait

About Face article

27 May 2020

Emily Casey takes in Shirley Purdie’s remarkable self-portrait, Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe.

Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey

So Fine

Contemporary women artists make Australian history

Previous exhibition, 2018

This exhibition features new works from ten women artists reinterpreting and reimagining elements of Australian history, enriching the contemporary narrative around Australia’s history and biography, reflecting the tradition of storytelling in our country.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.