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Willie Gudabi, Aboriginal Artist, Arnhem land

Region: Yugul Mangl (Ngukurr) –Northern Territory, Australia

Language group: Alawa,

Willie Gudabi c 1917-1996 an Alawa painter was born at Nutwood Downs station in the Northern Territory and grew up in the Alawa country.

He developed his skills hunting and gathering on the margins of small cattle stations such as St Vidgeon, Bauhinia downs, Nutwood Downs and Tanumbirini.

Before he went to live at Ngukurr, Gudabi worked as a stockman at a number of these stations including Tanumbirini, where he went through ceremony and was initiated and induction into the mysteries of complex sacred life of his people.After a stint at printmaking, Gudabi took up acrylic painting with other Ngukurr artists in 1987.

Often working collaboratively with his wife Moima Willie (c.1935-) of the Ngalakan people.

Gudabi soon developed a densely-painted narratives, sometimes gridded into a patchwork of vignettes relating to one or more of the interconnected stories about the characters, ceremonies sites, plants and animals of his country.

This became his story board.

A recurring character in Gudabi works is Gurdang one of the last survivors of the early contact period.

He was a mysterious person who shunned any contact with the white settlers, preferring to live alone out bush.

He left a legacy of rock art in Alawa country, with which Willie Gudabi was familiar, and was also associated with a secret ceremony central to Gudabi’s paintings.

For a long time Gudabi had wished to recover a cache of sacred items that Gurdang had secreted before his death in the labyrinthine stone country called Langgabayan.

"He told me that his paintings of Gurdang were meant to be about handing down the law."

Aware of his own impending death, Gudabi enlisted the assistance of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority to relocate these items to a safe place.

His art was informed by his spiritual life, and by the archetypal historic figure of Gurdang and langgabayan country.In his short painting career Gudabi achieved a high degree of recognition and is represented in most Australian art gallery collections.

He featured in a number of group exhibitions including‘Aboriginal Art and Spirituality’ (HCA 1991) and ‘Flash Pictures’ (National Gallery of Australia Canberra) 1991

As well as in solo commercial exhibitions his works hang in the 

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.National Gallery of Victoria,

Melbourne.National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.

The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory

In 1993, he was awarded the Gold Coast City Art Award, and won joint first prize at the Alice Prize and was a finalist in the 12th annual Telstra Northern Territory Art Awards

Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture 2000