Still in his 20s, Namunjdja won the Rothmans Foundation Award for Best Painting in a Traditional Media at the National Aboriginal Art Award in 1993. He followed up a high commendation in 2003 by winning the Telstra Bark Painting Award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2006.
Samuel held his first solo exhibition at Niagara Galleries in 2004, but has participated in more than 30 important group exhibitions as far afield as Slovenia, Japan, France, UK and USA since 1988. In addition to being a regular finalist in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, he was also shown in the important cross-cultural Living Together is Easy a joint exhibition at the Contemporary Art Centre, Japan and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. His work was also included in the seminal Crossing Country exhibition curated by Hetti Perkins at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
A common theme of Samuel Namunjdja’s work is the gungurra or wind dreaming. These paintings depict not only the spiralling winds and cyclones common in Arnhem Land, but also refer to Bilwoyinj, a site near Samuel’s clan estate. At this place, it is said that a father and son, important creation beings known as na-korrkko in the Kuninjku language group, hunted and ate a goanna, leaving behind some of the fat which became the rock salt that can be found at the site today. Bilwoyinj is also the ceremonial ground for Yabbaduruwa, a major ceremony which is concerned with matters of initiation, land ownership and the cycles of regeneration of man and nature. Other favourite subjects are the mimi spirit figures, Ngalyod rainbow serpent and the Namarrkon lightning man. Like many younger artists, Namunjdja paints not only these traditional stories, but also looks to less sacred surroundings and everyday activities such as fishing for yabbies, and other animals and plants.
Namunjdja produces a particularly fine style of rarrk typical of the best Western Arnhem Land painters. He is recognised by many as a potential successor to the pre-eminent painter of the area, John Mawurndjul. The detailed application of the ochre creates a delicate and lyrical surface. There is movement, life and depth in the work. The importance of the younger artists who continue the rich tradition of the fine rarrk cannot be underrated. Namunjdja’s exceptional talent and creative application to his work will ensure a long career.
Gungura with goanna tracks (1807-07), 2007
ochre pigments with PVC fixative on stringybark
81 x 44.5cm
Lorrkon (hollow log) (3413-11), 2011
ochre pigments with PVA fixative on hollowed stringybark log
195 x 33cm