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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.

James Iyuna, 1986

Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 25.3 cm x 25.3 cm)

James Iyuna (1959-2012), bark painter, was one of four brothers who grew up at Mumeka, an isolated outstation situated on the Mann River in the Arnhem Land escarpment stretching along the southern extremity of Arnhem Land from Kakadu to Maningrida. Their father, a fishtrap maker, did not paint either on rock or bark, but taught them to make nets; their uncle, the prominent bark painter Peter Marralwanga, taught the brothers bark painting techniques. All four, but particularly John Mawurndjul, subsequently achieved fame as bark painters. Like Mawurndjul’s, James Iyuma’s intricately crosshatched works frequently feature Ngalyod, the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites. Iyuna’s work featured in the major Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibition Crossing Country: the alchemy of western Arnhem Land art in 2004. With his wife Melba Gunjarrwanga, also an artist, Iyuna made a public artwork drawing on his knowledge of fishnet weaving for the Darwin Entertainment Centre in 2007.

Martin van der Wal called his series of photographs of Aboriginal artists Big Shots, referring both to the photographs themselves, and to the preeminence of his subjects.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

Accession number: 2005.61.6

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

James Iyuna (age 27 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham), 1986 Martin van der Wal

Big shots

Magazine article by Djon Mundine OAM, 2017

Djon Mundine OAM brings poignant memory and context to Martin van der Wal’s 1986 portrait photographs of storied Aboriginal artists.

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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.