Mimih and Yawkyawk
Mimih and Yawkyawk
Mimih and Yawkyawk
Mimih and Yawkyawk

Samson Bonson

1967 - Mimih and Yawkyawk 2022
  • Wood (Kurrajong) with ochre and fixative
12 cm x 193 cm 2x Artworks in this series

See a high resolution, three dimensional model of this work: https://sketchfab.com/models/9e4ba532919d4461ba9c10ac6f0e6f2f/embed?autostart=1:

West Arnhem Land artist, Samson Bonson, lives and works in Maningrida community, NT.  He was taught in the late 1990’s by Crusoe Kurddal a notable maker of Mimih spirit carvings. 

Bonson is known for the refined carvings and the minute nature of his pointillist decoration on the main body of his carvings.  This quality sees his work in high demand, and this work was selected to be a finalist in the 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.One side of this work is a representation of the mimih, which sits within a complex and important pedagogical and religious body of knowledge linking Kuninjku people to their distinctive escarpment homelands. The other side is a Ngalkodjek yawkyawk of Barrihdjowkkeng Country, which wraps around the mimih's torso. The painting is executed with Bonson's renowned precision and attention to detail. The Mimih spirit exists in a realm that runs parallel to and mirrors many facets of human life, also demonstrating the deep sense of time and place understood by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Such spirits feature importantly in relation to Aboriginal spirituality, cosmology, social and moral tales as well as ritual. As is true with the multiple mediums employed by artists of West Arnhem Land, the development of artistic style and form is in line with an awareness by the artist that the work produced is predominantly made for a broader audience.


Whether shown in a national or international context these works communicate and exist in a particular space that is cross-cultural and simultaneously so particular to the Arnhem region.

The Mimih sits within a complex and important pedagogical and religious body of knowledge which links Kuninjku people to their distinctive escarpment homelands. Young Kuniniku artists, or apprentices, employ the Mimih as an important exercise for the practice of the rark technique, as it could be achieved on a smaller surface area before, being attempted in larger scale, on pieces of bark. The Mimih serves a purpose for those young artists first learning to carve in a social space of sharing and innovating.

The initial Mimih manifestation was a large form that almost mirrored the anatomy of a human and at this stage the sculptures have been likened to Morkuy carvings visible in eastern Arnhem Land. Contemporaneously, Mimih are depicted in a refined, slender, even emaciated form with a broad range of facial expressions giving both individual character to, and denoting the potential volatility and humour that Mimih spirits are notable for in their interaction with Bininj (humans). The sculptures are frequently carved from the thin trunks of softwoods such as kapok (bombax ceiba or cottonwood) kurrajong, beach hibiscus or leichardt and are painted with earth pigments for their colouring and design.

A leading figure engaging the spirit in visual storytelling was Crusoe Kuningbal, a Kuniniku man, who while traveling was familiarised with carving styles from the east of Arnhem at the mission in Milingimbi pre-dating World War II. This showing a notable connection and interaction of different language groups across such space.

The mimih became a valued inclusion in performance and public ceremony by Kuninjku people like Kuningbal. At times these ceremonies were performed for extended language groups in the local region.

Now a familiar and broadly depicted figure of iconography, it is important to acknowledge the development of this quite recent sculptural tradition. The depiction of this particular spirit being, once used as an addition to the sharing of song cycles and ceremony, has since been elevated to a prominent form and subject of contemporary sculpture. Variation in the creation of Mimih acts as an indication of the individualism of each artist and their stylistic markers. Additionally significant to note is that in the space of the past thirty years the Mimih has begun to be produced by multiple language groups residing in the Maningrida area. including the traditional owners of Maningrida, the Ndébbana, speaking Kunibidji as well as Gurrgoni people who have strong ties to Kuninjku

©Maningrida Arts and Culture, 2022


Source: Maningrida 

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The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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