Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre

Lot 85 Gibb River Rd, Derby   08 9191 1008

Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre offers an authentic cultural experience of Kimberley Indigenous art and culture, featuring Wandjina and Gyorn Gyorn paintings unique to the area.

In Brief
  • Galleries: Aboriginal, Painting, Art Gallery
  • Open Days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
In Detail
Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre - Spirit of the Wandjina “Every race of people has a culture to follow. If you lose your culture you are floating. Lost. The artists are strong, but they know it is their job to pass on their knowledge to young people – to keep the spirit of the Wandjina alive.”(Donny Woolagoodja, artist, elder, Chairman of Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation]

“Wandjinas are our supreme spiritual beings. During Lailai or creation time we believe the Wandjinas created the earth and all living things. The stories of their actions during Lailai are the law and culture of our country. When Wandjinas are painted their spirit is renewed, and their stories are re-lived. Painting Wandjinas reconnects us to the Law. During Lailai the first people were Gyorn Gyorns and they lacked true understanding until the Wandjina taught them Law. The Gyorn Gyorn paintings are there in the rock and sometimes Wandjinas are painted alongside. The Wandjinas created everything and blessed the country with child spirits or what we call Unguds. These spirits live in rock pools and sacred places back in our country. Everyone from the three tribes has an Ungud and a dreaming place. Having created the world, the Wandjinas then painted themselves into cave walls in our countries. The Wandjinas are now here in everything, in the rocks, plants, animals, water, sea, sky and ocean, in all of existence. Our culture IS the Wandjina.” [Leah Umbagai and Kirsty Burgu, artists 2010]

To the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunumbal people, from the Mowanjum community outside Derby, Western Australia, the Wandjina is the supreme spirit being. These three language groups are the traditional owners of the lands lying to the north of Derby and often move between Mowanjum and communities in their homelands, where they look after their country and instruct young people in cultural matters. They have distinct languages but share a complex relationship and marriage system which means the web of mutual obligation and responsibility [wunan] is understood and practised across the region. They also share a vast knowledge of the animals and plants of the west Kimberley. But the greatest factor which unifies the people is the sharing of beliefs about the Wandjina whose images are found in rock shelters throughout their land. 

Worrorra lands are located along the coastal areas, including Cone Bay, Secure Bay, Walcott Inlet and the lower reaches of the Prince Regent River. To the east lie the Ngarinyin lands which extend in a north easterly direction from King Leopold Ranges to the Gibb River Rd. The Wunumbal country lies north of the Prince Regent River, although some traditional owners live at Kandiwal on the Mitchell Plateau and at Kalumburu.
The Mowanjum artists are creating images of stories that have been passed down through generations over a period of 100 centuries or more. They believe in the Wandinjas just as strongly today as their ancestors did soon after Lailai.
Today, thanks to the efforts of Mowanjum elders and artists, the Wandjina culture continues to evolve through the sharing of art and stories with the wider community, and as the Mowanjum children rediscover their own beliefs and heritage. 50 children from Mowanjum performed recently in the annual Festival held each July.“The annual Mowanjum Festival is an event we really look forward to. Passing culture onto the next generation through traditional song, dance and art, is the strong foundation of the community. All the work artists make at Mowanjum helps to connect us with our distant homelands. The spirit of the Wandjina is alive and strong at Mowanjum.” Leah Umbagai 2010

This generosity of spirit has changed many people who have come into contact with the Mowanjum Community, allowing them to experience an incredible journey of discovery and giving them a deeper understanding and appreciation of the richness of this ancient Indigenous culture. Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre welcomes more than 20,000 visitors every year. Mowanjum Festival is held in July each year, in the first week of the Western Australian school holidays.

Open Mon to Fri Oct to April, and daily from May to September
Closed from Xmas to end Jan