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Blackout – Malangi: A Day in the Life of a Bark Painter (1991)


Artist David Malangi travels around his country with his family, living off the land. He harvests and prepares materials from the bush. He selects a large sheet of bark to use as his canvas, fashions a twig to form a paintbrush and collects earth ochres to use as paint. As Malangi paints he talks about the ancestral and creator beings represented in his artwork. He explains the importance of these ancient stories to his peoples and how he maintains the sacred imagery associated with these stories in his paintings.

Curator’s notes

This insightful documentary takes the audience into an Aboriginal worldview as represented in the artwork and lifestyle of David Malangi. It describes the religious beliefs of his peoples and explains their connection to their country, kin and cultural heritage. Malangi’s paintings represent creation stories and mark sites in the landscape of religious significance to the traditional custodians.

Producer-director Michael Riley, a visual artist and filmmaker, frames the story within a Yolngu cultural context by presenting the interconnections between the peoples, their law, culture, kinship system and country as described in Yolngu creation stories. Malangi talks about the significance of places depicted in his artwork and explains that they represent sites and events from a time when the ancestral and creator beings roamed the land. The film describes how these beings created the environment, gave birth to the clans and gave them their language, social organisation, cultural knowledge and ceremonies.

The importance of this film will grow over time for its documentation of a legendary character within the Aboriginal art world and senior man within Yolngu cultural traditions. The power of Malangi’s knowledge transcends the screen, providing the audience with the experience of being in the presence of an impressive man.

Films like Malangi infuse the Australian screen’s representation of Aboriginal peoples and their cultures with Indigenous perspectives. They broaden our understanding by providing a view from within Aboriginal cultures rather than from the outside. Riley demonstrates the power of Aboriginal people telling their own stories, in their own languages, for their own cultural purposes.

Malangi – A Day in the Life of a Bark Painter is episode one in series four of Blackout.