The members of Injalak Arts are Kunwinjku, Mengerrdji and Erre people, all of whom today speak the Kunwinjku language. Within these cultural groups, all artists belong to a kunmokurrkurr or clan, which influences the stories and Djang (ancestral creation stories or ‘Dreamings’) they are allowed to represent.
Every clan has kunred or a specific area of country.
Aboriginal people in West Arnhem Land refer to themselves as bininj, meaning simply men or people.
Bininj today still carry on a number of ceremonies, and divide themselves into eight “skin” groups and two moieties. Skin and kinship are central to all relationships between people. Much of the known bininj world belongs to one of two halves or moieties, Duwa and Yirridjdja. This is a system of mutual obligation and co-operation. A Duwa man for example may be traditional owner for Duwa land, but it is largely the responsibility of a neighbouring Yirridjdja “djungkayi”, or “manager” to take care of it and vice versa.
Hunting and harvesting of bush foods still plays an important part in the life of bininj, and revolves around the traditional calendar of six distinct seasons. For example in bangkerreng, the late wet season, the dragonflies over the water tell people that the fish are fat and plentiful. Game and bush tucker are some of the most important subjects in rock art and this continues in the art of today.
Injalak members have country stretching from present-day Kakadu National Park in the west, to the “stone country” of the upper Liverpool and Mann Rivers in the east. Many have family connections extending as far as Goulburn Island and Maningrida the north, and Katherine and Beswick to the south.
At the centre of this compass is the Arnhem Plateau, the sandstone escarpment country at the heart of West Arnhem Land. This escarpment, and its outliers such as Injalak Hill in Gunbalanya, is one of the most important rock art areas in the world. It is from this rock art, as well as ceremonial body and object designs, and paintings on the walls of wet season bark shelters, that the art of the Injalak artists finds its origin.
The town of Gunbalanya services a number of outstations, which allow bininj to live on their own country and that of their family. These homelands are at the heart of bininj social and spiritual identity. Each stretch of land contains numerous Dreaming sites, and the travels of certain Ancestors connect different countries.
During the dry season Injalak Arts travels regularly to outstations such as Mamardawerre, Manmoyi, Kamarrkawan and Kabulwarnamyo to support our members living ‘on country’ and collect top-quality artworks. We believe supporting outstation artists is an important part of promoting Indigenous cultural heritage.
Injalak also supports arts & crafts production by countrymen and women who are living in the community who have married locals or are visiting family for extended periods so some works are by other language groups.
Aerial view of Mandjoworlbidj ‘big waterfall’ in West Arnhem region during wet season.
Injalak Arts is located in the small community of Gunbalanya in West Arnhem Land. Gunbalanya has a population of around 1200, of which around 90% are bininj or Aboriginal people. The traditional owners of Gunbalanya is the Gumurdul family who allow Injalak to operate on their land and are actively supportive of the art centre. The other Indigenous residents have their country estates throughout West Arnhem Land. Injalak Arts plays an important role within the community with multiple roles as: a social enterprise that generates livelihoods for local people; a charity; a social hub and one of only two fully-Indigenous governed and continuously operating organisations in the town. The sale of arts and crafts is an important source of self-generated income for many people. The production of arts and crafts also involves a mentorship system for many young people into aspects of bininj culture. Injalak supports many community activities, including cultural events such as ceremonies and funerals as well as helping organise public events such as the Stone Country Festival.