These ceramic figures are major examples of a new form of ceramic production at Tiwi Pottery on Bathurst Island. They are based on traditional figures carved in wood.
The Tiwi craft workshops were first set up as Tiwi Pottery by NSW potter Ivan McMeekin at Bagot Reserve, Darwin in 1968, later moving to Nguiu, Bathurst Island in 1971. At that stage pottery was made in a functional stoneware aesthetic (see 92/1559) espoused by McMeekin and English potter Michael Cardew. This aesthetic was centred on decoration from ash and flame in the kiln, with some underglaze line drawing in natual colours and sgraffito. A number of other Australian potters have co-ordinated activities at Tiwi Pottery since that time, and the output has varied in quantity. In the early 1990s a switch was made to using earthenware with bright underglaze colours (eg. the work of Eddie Puruntatameri 96/39/1:3) at Pularumpi on Melville Island that was coincidental with developments with designs of similar works on paper.
In early 1999 Steve Davies (whose work is also represented in the collection) went to work at the pottery. He decided to abandon vessel-making and concentrate instead on encouraging the potters to investigate making figures in clay, based on those traditionally made in wood as part of Tiwi ceremonies. They researched documentation of old carved figures and over a six-month period about four artists developed about 20 ceramic works. This direction was very successful and the works were keenly sought after by major museums. Jock Puautjimi was one of the early potters from the 1970s workshop, while Mark Puautjimi is younger, and was working with clay for the first time.
Davies has now left the workshop, and these figures reflect the best of this brief but very strong burst of activity.
This work combines (one on each side) two key Tiwi figures. Purukupali(sometimes called Purukuparli, Purukuparrli, Purukapali) was the first man and while he was hunting his wife Bima (sometimes known as Wayayi) was seduced by Purukapali's brother Tapara (sometimes Taparra, or Japara) and she left her baby Jinani under a tree. The baby died when the hot sun shifted and shone on him. In his grief Purukupali walked into the sea with his son and disappeared forever. Tapara, with his face slashed by a stick, became the moon; Bima became a curlew. To the Tiwi people, this was the first death, and it was followed by the first Pukumani (burial) ceremony. This story, together with some of the decorative motifs on the figures, is represented on Tiwi textiles in the Museum's collection.
This particular figure represents both male and female (as front and back). It shows Bima on one side, and Purukapali on the other side. The spirit of the dead baby Jinani sits on their combined heads.The figure on the head is the spirit of their baby son Jinani. According to Steve Davies, Jock Puatjimi made the figure, and Mark Puatjimi decorated it. The figure is very much connected to the old carvings from the early 1900s and is one of the first that Mark Puatjimi worked on.