|Milingimbi Easter panel, c.1965|
From the National Gallery of Australia (link includes a video of the painting with the following spoken text, or click here):
A Methodist mission was established on the island of Milingimbi, off the central Arnhem Land coast, in 1923. The mission encouraged the continuation of Aboriginal religious customs alongside Christian doctrine. By the 1960s there was an increasing demand for bark paintings by the local artists; while these usually depicted traditional subjects, the Milingimbi Easter panel c 1965 is unique.
Painted by several leading Yirritja moiety artists, it is one of two prepared as a backdrop for an Easter pageant in the Methodist church and depicts the crucifixion, on the right, and the resurrection of Christ, on the left. A second painting was prepared by artists of the Dhuwa moiety depicting the crucifixion and the burial of Christ; unfortunately its whereabouts are unknown. Each painting was prepared on half of a folding plywood table-tennis top, the most readily available surface at the time.
The artists decided on the contents and detail of each panel to best utilise the space available while focusing on the central theme. Members of Christ’s family, his friends and disciples have been omitted from the crucifixion scene, but they are included in the resurrection panel complete with pots of ointments to embalm the body, along with angels depicted by feathered tassels on their arms. Soldiers with weapons figure prominently in both panels, those of higher rank designated by headdresses and sword scabbards attached to belts.
The painting reflects the usual style and perspective of the Milingimbi area. The larger the figure or object, the more important it is: the crucified Christ and thieves and the hammer and nail in the crucifixion panel; the women with their pots visiting the sepulchre; and the shaft of white light highlighting the discarded grave clothes and rolled-away stone in the resurrection panel.
The bands of triangular and diamond symbols around the crucifixion panel and on the horizontal arm of the cross signify Yirritja authorship. The coloured and crosshatched triangles represent storm clouds and rocks from the Birrkili clan mortuary ceremony. The linked diamonds symbolise the cells of the wild honeybee hive which is a central feature of the sacred age-grading Birrkulda ceremony.
The Easter panels were inspired by the Dhuwa and Yirritja panels that were painted for the mission church at Yirrkala in 1963. Unlike these, the Milingimbi paintings were not intended for permanent display—the stained glass window in the Milingimbi church served that function.
 These are on display in the museum at the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre at the community of Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010