Ray Mudjandi was born in Garramilla (Darwin) in the year 2000 and grew up between Djibiorrk in Kakadu National Park and Katherine in the Northern Territory. His family are Mirarr people from Kakadu and Western Arrernte from Central Australia. Mudjandi’s work expresses his Bininj culture and identity as well as his love of pop culture, contemporary film, comics and superheroes.

Mudjandi creates superhero character-based works of art, complete with intricate narratives and epic sagas of good versus evil, often in response to his surroundings and issues that affect him and his community. Mudjandi lives on Mirarr land, his mother’s Country, at Djirrbiyak outstation in Kakadu National Park. He draws inspiration in equal parts from both modern popular culture and the culturally significant djang (ancestral power) stories from Kakadu and Western Arnhem Land.

In March 2023, Mudjandi travelled down to Barrow Creek, Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges) and Ntaria (Hermannsburg) to meet family on his father’s side for the first time. Mudjandi connected with family, Country, artists and Central Desert culture. During this trip Mudjandi developed ideas and sketches for a new superhero, Black Speed, Mudjandi’s latest superhero, who holds lightening in his body as djang (sacred power), represented on bark and relief sculpture.

Mudjandi described the new character’s origin story to his nanna;

Black Speed is black, wears yellow and orange. He’s got big nose like Bininj (people of western Arnhem Land), like this one.

‘Is that a shooting star or something? Let’s go and check.’

They walked to where that rock fell. It was red and gold, that tiny shiny rock. Black Speed, he touched it and it went to his heart, all the electricity. That electricity went everywhere in his body. It went through him like electric shock, through the veins and he was electrocuted, like in the brain! He couldn’t move his arms or legs, paralysed.

‘Why you got to touch that rock?’ his stepbrother said.

They called the clinic mob. In the clinic they did blood test, they looked with binoculars, went inside, but the blood was different colour. He see like round ones, like blood cells, and they were spinning around and he see lightning flashing in the blood.

The scientist is thinking, they thinking like he’s electric. Scientist tell the mother, ‘This boy is infected with something’, but the next day he was OK. There’s no pain, no anything. He is back to normal.

He woke up next morning and went to school with his brothers. At recess, they eat and go and play. One kid, he plays basketball, and they asked him to pass him the ball, and Black Speed he shoots the basketball in the goal, so fast and so far on top of the air. He looked up and he started freaking out, like ‘Oh, did you see? Did you see?’ And everyone saw!

That lightning is in his body and gave him Superpower.

Mudjandi’s Nanna, Maureen Campbell, said: ‘In our language, for Black Speed we say Maru Wala’.

Fun Fact

Do you want to be an artist, but think that maybe you are too young? Well, Mudjandi had his first exhibition at the age of 16 years, the works would later be acquired by Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. More recently, his work was highly commended in the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D award at the 2022 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

Ray Mudjandi, Damien Kamholtz, Ntaria (Hermannsburg), Northern Territory, 2023; photo: Katie Hagebols.

  • Since childhood, Mudjandi has loved cartoons, comics, video games and characters. A character archetype or trope are broad character types such a hero, ruler, outlaw or jester. Investigate the different type of charters that exist in narratives, TV, movies etc. Select your favourite movie or TV show and identify the archetypes of each character. You might like to watch Cleverman, an ABC TV sci-fi show that explores Aboriginal origin stories in a contemporary context, and identify the archetypes here too.
  • Investigate what pop culture is and how it has influenced artists and their work. Select two works of art (one historical and one contemporary) and analyse how the artists have used pop culture within their work. Compare this approach to that used by Mudjandi. What characteristics do these works of art share? Tip: Look at the work of Kaylene Whiskey and Brian Robinson to get started.
  • Villain or hero? Brainstorm a list of characters in stories who are villains or heroes. What characteristics do they share? For example, Batman is considered an anti-hero and Maleficent a villain, but they share similar physical characteristics (eg. Pointy features, black clothing and sharp weapons).
  • Silhouettes and shapes are useful in identifying and designing characters. Sometimes we can identify a villain or a hero based only on their silhouette. Select three well known comic characters. Typically, most characters are based on a circle, triangle or square. Identify these shapes within the characters – usually there is a hierarchy with one shape that dominates, and others are an accent or smaller.

Namarrkon (lightning), 2023, Jabiru, Mirarr Country, Northern Territory, synthetic polymer paint, earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta), 114.0 x 43.0 cm; Acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2024, © Ray Mudjandi / Marrawudda Arts & Culture.

Captain Headland versus The Fisherman is a comic book by Layne Dhu-Dickie who was born in 2004 in South Headland in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Dhu-Dickie’s heritage lies with the Banjiyma people. His one-off characters share moral codes and life unique to the Pilbara. When he was aged seven, he began drawing characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog and would spend time reading his Dad’s comics. Both Mudjandi and Dhu-Dickie are young artists who draw inspiration from superheroes and comic book characters. Compare the work by both artists. How are their works similar and how are they different?

View Layne Dhu-Dickie's full comic here

  • If you could have a superpower, what would it be? How would you use your power for good? Create a symbol or icon to identify your superpower, like Mudjandi did with his lightning bolt.
    • Write and illustrate the origin story of you as a superhero. How did you get your power?
  • Is there an issue or concern affecting your local area or community at the moment that you could use to eliminate this problem? Write and illustrate a story featuring you and your superpower.
  • Initially when Mudjandi took an interest in art, he was learning from some of the senior Bininj painters, working on bark. At the same time, he was drawing characters – overtime these two ways of making art have fused, with Mudjandi now painting his characters and onto bark. Find something old and something new. It could be an item of clothing, recycled material etc. Create a painting that merges these two things together.

This education resource has been written in collaboration with Kylie Neagle Education Coordinator and Dr. Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs

Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.

AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.