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Kun-madj (Dilly Bag)

Kun-madj, or dilly bag, is a large woven collecting basket. These large bags are often made from the vine ‘Malasia scandens’, a strong pliable plant which grows along the floor and into the canopy of monsoon vine thickets. The bags are used to collect any kind of large numbers of heavy foods such as fish caught in conical fish traps or large collections of yams.

They can also be made from Pandanus spiralis, a plant which grows in many areas of Arnhem Land. These dilly bags are a tightly woven collecting basket, very finely made. These dilly bags are often used to collect sugarbag, the native honey

As well as being of practical use, dilly bags are also of religious significance to Arnhem Land people. Dilly bags are said to be totemic objects and associated with particular sites in the landscape.

Name: Jack Yurrulbbirri Nawilil

Language: Rembarrnga, Mayali

Community: Maningrida


Mayali and Rembarrnga artist Kamarrang Jack Nawilil is a senior member of the Balngarra clan, who lives and works at Bolkjdam, an outstation located near Maningrida community in central Arnhem Land. A song man and cultural leader, he works across painting on bark, carved sculpture and ceremonial objects such as mularra (morning star poles), mako (didgeridoo), lorrkkon (hollow logs) and body adornments using feathers, native beeswax and hand-spun bark fibre string. Common subjects of his work include representations of significant spirit beings, such as wyarra (skeleton), wurum (fish-increasing) and namorrodo (profane) spirits, and important ancestors, including the female creator ancestor Ngalkodjek who travelled from Elcho Island in the East.

The narratives represented in Nawilil’s artworks are extremely complex and often antithetical to Western knowledge systems. His artworks reference and manifest multiple places, clans and events that span vast distances and timeframes. To audiences who are not initiated and socialised in bininj (Aboriginal) cultural practices and history, the true and complete meanings of these artworks cannot be fully grasped. His artworks challenge the viewer to grapple with a different way of being in, and understanding, the world.

Nawilil’s work is held in public and private collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. He has exhibited with commercial galleries around Australia and overseas for nearly four decades.

© the artist / art centre