Port Keats Bark Painting and Artists

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Port Keats Bark Painting

Port Keats Bark Painting

Early Port Keats bark painting are almost always on oval shaped pieces of bark.  The painting includes many designs similar to churinga including concentric circles curved lines intertwining spiral and animal or bird tracks. The backgrounds are a solid colour most usually brown. Port Keats bark paintings tend to be small and do not have cross hatching.

The aboriginals in Port Keats believe they migrated from the deserts of Central Australia during a period of prolonged drought.  Many of their customs are similar to those of the Aranda and other central tribes. Culturally significant items such as churinga were brought with people when they migrated and formed the basis for designs found on Port Keats bark paintings.

Later Port Keats Bark Paintings incorporate design elements from other Arnhem Land areas and some are on square barks.  Early barks with strong Churinga like designs and Barks with well known artists tend to be more valued.

There are only a few well known early bark painters from Port Keats and this is because earlier artists would have been engraving designs onto wood. It was missionaries that encouraged artists to paint on bark, as they could see it was a way for the locals to make some income. Earlier barks tend to only have abstract designs on oval barks. Later designs have less abstract designs on squarer barks.

Port Keats Bark Painting Artists


Ceremonial ground with fishNym Bunduk

Charlie Brinken


Charlie Mardigan

Charlie Rock Ngumbe

Bobyin Nongah

Djinu Tjimari

Port Keats is situated in the North west portion of Arnhem Land between the Fitzmaurice and Daly rivers. The region is fertile, well watered and abundant in wildlife. It remained relatively isolated until the 1960’s. The Murinbata is one of the largest and most dominant tribes in the area. There is a mission station from which most of port Keats bark paintings have been collected.

Port Keats Painting in the National Gallery of Australia

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