Tiwi Jilamara

Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop
Feb 24, 2019 5:22AM

Jilamara Arts is a remote Indigenous art centre in Milikapiti, Tiwi Islands (Darwin Australia). In Tiwi language, Jilamara means design.


Ochre is collected when we go out on country. Arrikirninga (yellow ochre), comes from the earth, on the mainland. We have to dig it up. When we heat up the yellow ochre on the campfire, it changes to yaringa (red ochre). Kirijipuni (white ochre) comes from the cliff faces on the coast. Some artists still use charcoal for black.

Ochre paintings come from Tiwi ceremonies, where ochre painted jilamara (design) is used for body painting to protect from mapurtiti (spirits of the dead). Each artist has their own style and design, which is used in both art & ceremony.

We sometimes paint with the kayimwagakimi, also known as pwoja, which means bone. It is a traditional Tiwi painting 'comb', made from ironwood and is unique to the Tiwi. It's a special tool for dot painting, Tiwi style. Each comb is hand carved.

Raelene Kerinauia Lampuwatu
Jilamara, 2018
Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop

Jilamara artists are nationally and internationally renowned for their unique, traditional Tiwi style. They produce contemporary works based on ceremonial body painting designs, clan totems and Tiwi creation stories.

The Tiwi palette of red, yellow, white and black are made from natural ochre pigments collected on country.

Artwork by Jilamara artists are held in major collections around the world including National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of NSW, Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of South Australia, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Commonwealth Institute (UK), Gantner Myer Collection (Aus), Wesfarmers Collection (Aus), Gordon & Marilyn Darling Collection (Aus), Levi-Kaplan Collection (USA), The British Museum (UK), Utrecht Aboriginal Art Museum (NL), Musée du quai Branly (Fr) and The Israel Museum (Il).

Timothy Cook
Kulama, 2018
Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop


In 1995 the Australian Print Workshop (APW) assisted us to acquire a printing press and conducted the first printmaking workshop at the Art Centre. Senior printer Martin King made the first etchings with Kitty Kantilla. Since these early days Jilamara has held many more bush workshops with APW, Northern Editions, Basil Hall Editions. Frank Gohier and many other print publishers.

Many of our artists have travelled to different parts of the country to take part in printmaking projects and residencies. Recently Janice Murray was awarded the APW Collie Print Trust Fellowship in 2017. She travelled to Melbourne to take part in a residency and produced a series of etchings based on Tiwi birdlife.

Janice Murray Pungautiji
Tirrintirri (Burdekin Ducks), 2017
Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop


Ironwood is used to make Tutuni poles (for Pukamani, funeral ceremony), to make spears for fishing and hunting and to carve Tiwi tokapuwi (birds).

Carving birds from ironwood makes them heavy and strong. Some birds have important Tiwi stories to go with them. Some are peoples totems or come from the creation story of Wai-ai & Purukupali. Some are just pumpuni yinkiti (good food).

The men go out on country to chop the Ironwood with chainsaws. Our ancestors used to use special axes made from stone.


In parlingarri (long time ago) the Tiwi were immortal. One day, Wai-ai the wife of Purukupali, met her brother-in-law Japarra in the bush while she was collecting bush tucker and made love with him. She had left her baby son Jinani in the shade, but was away for so long that he died from heatstroke.

Her husband Purukapali, enraged and devastated, fought Japarra, striking him with spears and throwing sticks. Japarra was injured, and flew up to become the moon, always reminding Tiwi of the life and death cycle (full moon, no moon, new moon). Wai-ai became the curlew bird Bima, forever crying out her grief in the dusk.

Purukapali then performed first the Pukumani (funeral) ceremony for his son. He picked up his son and called out, "now my son is gone, we will all have to follow."

From that day, Tiwi became mortal.

Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop