Kuninjku artists Owen Yalandja and Anniebell Marrngamarrnga have created three-dimensional representations of the same ancestral being, the yawkyawk. Yawkyawk (also known as yawk yawk and yalk yalk) are female water spirits that are often referred to within European cultures as mermaids.
They are half ﬁsh, half Ancestral Being, who entice unsuspecting men beneath the water of the billabongs and lagoons, where they reside throughout Arnhem Land. In some representations they have long reed-like hair, referring to the waterweed, and are able to transform their features into that of a ﬁsh snake. They are able to morph further as they grow into adulthood, leaving their watery domicile and ﬂying like dragonﬂies. Closely associated with the powerful Ancestral Being Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent, yawkyawk are often linked with sorcery.
Yalandja’s majestic, elegant carvings of Yawkyawk 2007, hewn from eucalyptus trunk, denote strength and power. The chevron design, his signature design, indicates the shimmering scales on the ﬁsh-like body of the creatures, catching the light and suggesting the inherent power within the billabong where yawkyawk reside. Yalandja, the son of renowned carver and senior Mumeka custodian Anchor Kuningbal (c. 1922–1984), was taught to carve by his father.