Explore environment, place and colour

Leading Yolŋu artist Noŋgirrŋa Marawili was born in 1939 at Darrpirra, north of Djarrakpi (Cape Shield) and today lives in Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land. Using organic shapes, natural and synthetic materials, Marawili reflects her understanding of her culture, history and environment in her bark paintings, prints and larrakitj (painted hollow logs).

Documenting sites on Country, Marawili captures the atmospheric effects of wind, water and lightning using residual magenta ink from cast-off printer cartridges mixed with natural pigments.

Marawili also draws inspiration from Baratjala (a Madarrpa clan estate adjacent to Djarrakpi) where she camped as a child with her father.

Bring the artist into your classroom

Interview with Noŋgirrŋa Marawili

I began working as an artist helping my husband Djutjadjutja Munuŋgurr on his paintings. He was a great artist and I would help him with paint his barks and larrakitj. After a while he taught me how to paint on my own and I began to make my own paintings.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili painting Baratjala, Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, Northern Territory, 2019; photo: Dave Wickens.

I paint water designs. The water. As it crashes onto the rocks at high tide. Sending the spray into the sky. You know what I mean. That’s what I do. And also those things on the rocks that I paint as dots are called dungunanin, the barnacles that dress up the rocks. I just do my own design from the outside. Water. Rock. Rocks that stand strong. And the waves that run and crash upon the rocks. The sea spray. This is the painting I do. You may spy on me and think that I am painting sacred things. This would be a lie.

It is my life.

My husband.

recycled print toner pigment, Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, Northern Territory, 2019; photo: Dave Wickens.

  • Locate Yirrkala on a map. Where is it situated within Arnhem Land? Research the climate in Yirrkala. How do the seasons there differ from the seasons where you live?
  • What are some things you notice about your environment when the seasons change?

Investigate how artists collect and prepare bark before beginning their work of art.

Some historical rock paintings created by Aboriginal people thousands of years ago have faded and are possibly not as vivid as they once were. Suggest reasons why they are fragile and what can be done to preserve these historical records from further deterioration. Some of Marawili’s work has been made using a combination of magenta pigment, which includes the molecule Quinacridone, and natural materials. Do you think this would make her work more or less fragile?

  • Research the materials that Marawili has used to create her work. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using synthetic versus natural materials?
  • Marawili sometimes uses a marwat, a very fine paint brush made from human hair. Examine her paintings. Can you identify where she has used different types of brushes? Find a work of art in the collection and look closely at the marks made. Did the artist apply them quickly? Did the artist use a lot of media? Based on your observations and analysis of the marks made, design a unique tool for your artist.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili uses magenta pigment from discarded printer cartridges to create her works of art. Magenta dye was developed in 1856 and is named after a bloody battle in the Italian town of Magenta. Today the pigment is made using the organic molecule Quinacridone and is found in outdoor paints, inkjet printer ink and laser printer toners.

  • What other things do you associate with the colour magenta?
  • Investigate the history of pigments. What surprising or unusual stories can you discover? Write a narrative poem about the life of your favourite colour.
  • After looking closely at Marawili’s bark paintings, what kind of music do you think would complement her work?

N Marawili, Madarrpa clan, Yolŋu people, Northern Territory, born Darrpirra, Northern Territory c.1938, died Yirrkala, Northern Territory 2023, Baratjala, 2019, Yirrkala, northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, earth pigments, recycled print toner pigment on stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta), 241.0 x 100.0 cm; Gift of Susan Armitage, Mary Choate, Jason Karas and Anna Baillie-Karas, Leo Mahar, Nicholas Sampson and Zena Winser through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation Collectors Club 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Noŋgirrŋa Marawili/Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre.

Monochromatic Design

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili is a painter and a printmaker. Make a unique stencil and create a monochromatic design using your favourite colour.


  • Brown or scrap paper/card
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paper or fabric for printing your design on
  • Foam roller, sponge or paint paintbrush

Fold a piece of brown paper or scrap paper in half and draw a design on the folded edge. Keep the design simple, think about shapes or lines that could create an interesting pattern and perhaps mean something to you or are inspired by place where you live.

Once you are happy with your design cut it out, making sure you keep the paper folded. 

Unfold the paper to reveal your stencil design.

Place the stencil over the top of your clean paper or fabric. Holding your stencil in place, use a foam roller to paint over your stencil. Use just one colour to start with. Tip: You may want to secure the edges of your paper and stencil before you begin.

Repeat the process using different tints and shades of your colour, overlapping your design to create an interesting pattern. You might like to swap stencils with other people in your class.

Place and Environment

These four bark paintings represent the sacred power of lightning. Marawili’s father’s name of Mundukul means ‘Lightning Snake’ and is also the name of the serpent or water python that lives deep in the sea in Baratjala, the Madarrpa clan estate (her family’s home). In these paintings, she includes some of the designs depicting the manifestation of Mundukul, where the snake spits into the sky in the form of lightning (guykthun) and depicts the sea spray from crashing waves (yurr’yunna )that threaten to dislodge unmoveable rocks at the site. As Will Stubbs, Coordinator of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, notes: ‘Guykthunalso means “to make something sacred or taboo through saying magic words”. Thus Mundukul sends energy out into the sky.’

Marawili’s Country is known for its lightning strikes during the wet season, from November to April. In these four paintings, the artist captures the essence and energy of this natural phenomenon. Each painting, with its gestural line work and pulsating organic patterns, is rendered in different coloured natural earth pigments, allowing for a graduation of colour that creates a sense of movement.

The artist says that ‘the paintings I do are not sacred. I can’t steal my father’s painting. I just do my own design from the outside. Water. Rock. Rocks that stand strong, and the waves that run and crash upon the rocks. The sea spray. This is the painting I do’. Although Marawili denies any sacred intent in her works, they are emblematic of her identity, with both her own personality and ancestral background carrying through to the design (miny’tji).

– Gloria Strzelecki, Assistant Curator, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art 

Marawili draws inspiration from Baratjala, where she camped as a child with her father. She captures the atmospheric effects of wind, water and lightning.

  • Create a work of art about your favourite season.
  • Marawili is a painter and a printmaker. Using different media, create two works of art that draw inspiration from the place where you live.
  • Using a combination of satellite imagery, pressure maps, ocean currents and weather maps as inspiration, create a work of art inspired by the weather conditions where you live.
  • Choreograph a dance inspired by wind and lightning.
  • Make a costume that represents what the weather is like at your favourite place.
  • Listen to a range of weather sounds. Create a visual response to these sounds using coloured pencil, paper, pastel etc.
    Tip: Sounds can be found on YouTube or a sleep ambience application for Android or Apple.
  • Conduct a year-long art project by photographing a particular place in your school or home three times a day, every day for an entire school year. Exhibit these images as one large collaborative display. What changes do you recognise hour to hour, day to day, or month to month?
  • Imagine you are one of the elements. Write a story or poem from the perspective of a natural phenomenon.
  • Make a drawing machine that is powered by wind or water.