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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.

Jarinyanu Dancing at Broome Festival, 1990

Jarinyanu David Downs

natural earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on linen (support: 112.0 cm x 84.0 cm)
Image not available (NC)

Jarinyanu David Downs (c. 1925-1995), Wangkajunga-Walmajarri painter, printmaker and preacher, lived a traditional life in the Great Sandy Desert of West Australia until he was a young man. Moving to the Northern Territory in the late 1940s, he worked as a drover and miner. He converted to Baptist Christianity in the mid 1960s, and became a church elder at Fitzroy Crossing. Shortly after this he began to make shields, boomerangs and coolamons decorated with ochre; he began painting figuratively on paper, shields and canvas in the early 1980s. Many of his works include Christian imagery, and some combine his traditional stories and personal experiences with Baptist stories; his body of work expresses his philosophy that we 'gotta make 'em whole lot one family'. Downs was represented in many group exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s.

The self-portrait Jarinyaru dancing at Broome festival was among the works in the 2016 exhibition Jarinyanu David Downs, Kurtal as Self, held in the artist’s community of Fitzroy Crossing and the first show of Jarinyaru's works since his death in 1995. Karen Dayman’s essay in the catalogue for the exhibition states that in this painting, Jarinyanu has depicted himself painted for a ceremony honouring Kurtal the Rainmaker and celebrating the connection between the rain and the replenishment of the land and of food sources that it creates. Jarinyanu is shown ‘gesturing to an audience, presenting himself as both hunter and Kurtal. The elements adorning the vertical beam that he is carrying – lizards and rain – attest to the fecundity of his physical world. Woollen strands suspended from the headdress, a common feature for Kurtal ceremony, mark not only rain but also the food that falls with it’. As experts have noted, Jarinyanu consistently visualised ancestral beings in human form, many of his works – like this one – thereby reflecting his traditional and Christian spirituality. For him, ‘both religions served similar purposes in revealing divine order in the cosmos’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017

Accession number: 2017.48

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jarinyanu David Downs (age 65 in 1990)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related portraits

1. Jarinyanu David Downs, 1986. All Martin van der Wal.

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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.