2002, acrylic on plywood, cotton wool, 140 x 40 cm
2002, acrylic on plywood, cotton wool, 146 x 42 cm
2002, acrylic on plywood, cotton wool, 125 x 85 cm
Born Sunday Island, 1930
Currently lives and works in Broome
Roy Wiggan is a senior Bardi man who is the custodian of many traditional stories and songs of his people. He is the only member of his community entitled to make new ilma, rare, hand-held ceremonial objects which allow Bardi people to learn and access their stories, law and songs.
Description of work
The ceremonial objects created by the Bardi people are unique in Australia; in appearance, in materials and perhaps also in purpose. Ilma are used in traditional songs and corroborrees, and each embodies a particular song/story. They are used to help teach these stories, laws and moral codes. Ilma often depict physical things and natural phenomena - animals, tides, rain and country - but may also embody emotions or metaphysical concepts, such as the Bardi understanding of a doorway between the physical and spiritual worlds. Made with cotton wool, acrylic paint and plywood (in place of traditional materials such as hair, ochres, bark, feathers and native cotton), their distinctive appearance demonstrates the alternative visual language developed by Bardi people from their unique relationship with their coastal country.
The ilma (their physical appearance and colour, the songs and narratives they describe, and their related dance choreography) appear to their makers in dreams or visions, brought by the spirits of deceased people. Wiggan's ilma are usually brought by his father, but sometimes also his wife or brother. Many relate to events that occurred during Wiggan's father's lifetime when he was swept out to sea on a raft, and tell of his survival and eventual return to land.
The Eye of the Storm: Eight Contemporary Indigenous Australian Artists, National Gallery of Australia and National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 1996
The reverence in which ilma are held meant that traditionally they were not sold. Wiggan recently made the decision to sell his work commercially, in the hope that the ilma will be preserved for future generations through the Western art and museum system. His first solo exhibition was held at William Mora Galleries in 2002.
Although his work has not been publicly available in the past, Wiggan's work has been widely collected by national and state museums and galleries.