Skin: Marntupuni (House Fly)
Country: Andranangoo (Goose Creed)
Dance: Tartuwali (Shark)
Timothy Cook won the 2012 Major Award at the esteemed Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Art Awards and had been a finalist in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2018 he won the inaugural King and Wood Mallesons Contemporary ATSI Art Prize.
Timothy’s art is highly sought by major public galleries and collectors worldwide. Using only natural ochres he expresses himself through his spacious and loose designs
Timothy was born in 1958 on Melville Island which, with Bathurst Island and nine smaller ones, comprises the Tiwi Islands in the eastern Timor Sea around 60 kilometres north of Darwin in the Northern Territory where Indigenous people have lived for over 40,000 years.
Timothy began painting, carving and print works with Jilimara Arts and Craft on Melville Island in 1999 and he remains an active member of the Centre.
He focuses on parlini jilamara (old time designs) which he was taught by his Elders with dots (pwanga) being his favourite as ochre dots are applied to his face for Ceremony. These face dots are applied by Timothy’s ‘bunji – a kinship relationship word which means mate, or in-law.
Timothy’s paintings are strongly linked to parts of Tiwi ceremonial custom, in particular the Kularma (Yam ceremony) and Pukumani (Funeral ceremony) as well as Purukapali, of the prominent Tiwi ancestral beings.
The Kularma ceremony is a traditional initiation of young men which coincides with the wild yam harvest. This ceremony occurs in March to April (late wet season) when a halo appears around the Japarra (moon), and involves five stages where the boys are carefully instructed in Tiwi customs, law, history and religious ritual. The boys are then renamed with their man’s name. The circles in Timothy’s paintings represent the moon, yam and the five stages of the Kularma ceremony. The pwanga (dots) reflect the japalinga (stars) and the ‘cross’ his spiritual life.
In the Tiwi Islands the moon is a forceful metaphor for life and death. The immortals lived in a land of dreams where nothing died. Until Wai-ai, a Tiwi goddess married to Purukapali, heard Tapara, the moon man, calling her to his embrace and to leave her baby son, Jinaini under a bush. Wyah, the old sun saw woman saw the adulterers leave and furiously directed her hottest rays on the boy, killing him.
As Jinaini died, the owl awoke in the day-time and cried out, ‘Death has come to the world. The son of Purukapali is dead.’ All other birds echoed the owl’s cry. Purukapali was told by Tokampini, the old birdman, that his son was dead which he didn’t believe as nobody died and all were immortal. His wife, Wai-ai heard him calling her and tried to run to him but was barred by the birds. She broke free and the angry pelicans followed here hissing her son was dead and she was the bringer of death.
Purukapali challenged Tapara, his brother, to a fight. Ancestors and relatives watched them fighting when Tapara climbed a tree and called out to his mother, the moon, for help. She let down a ladder of moonbeams and Tapara climbed into the moon, where his body changed to a pale half-moon, which said ‘Purukapali, do not mourn. Give your son’s body to me and I will make him live. Every time the moon is full, all the dead with rise and live again.’ Purukapali rejected this and struck the ground, which made a huge hole, then danced around it, singing the first Pukamani songs, to preserve the story of how death had come to the world.
Purukapali and Tokampini, the bird, felled the ironwood trees and carved and painted the tall mortuary posts, Pukamani, for everyone to see and remember how death had come, and through all the painting and singing, declare that man will live again forever in a spirit land.
When the ceremony ended Purukapali wept and walked into the sea to drown where his ghost paddled to the spirit world to find his son.
A Purukapali died, a crane flew and urinated in the sea, turning it to salt. The old man, Wirreeween-pinilla drank the water and shouted, ‘Who has turned the fresh water to salt? Ah, I see, we are all mortal now. Everything has changed and I need to make new laws. I name you people Tiwi. I give you family names, skins, land and Dreaming places. Keep the law and you will always be strong. The only people in the whole world.’
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Art Gallery of SA, Adelaide
Art Gallery of WA, Perth
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Musee du Quai Branly, Paris
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney
Sandra Le Brun Holmes, The Goddess and the Moon Man, The sacred art of the Tiwi Aborigines, Craftsman House, 1995.
Jilamara Arts & Crafts, Melville Island, Tiwi Islands