Ngak Ngak and The Owl At Night, 1997
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
57 x 123cm
Painted at Araluen Art Centre, Alice Springs during an artist in residence in 1997
Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
Artist’s Retrospective: Mother in Mind: The Art of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC, 17 July – 22 September 1997
Agents of Change, Biennale of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW (dates tbc). The artist shared the ground floor at the Biennale with Yoko Ono
Judith Ryan, Mother in Mind: The Art of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1997, p. 104 (colour illustration).
Cf. For related examples see, Ngak Ngak – Night time, 1989 in The Holmes a Court Collection and Garimala, Ngak Ngak and the Four Archers in Limmen Bight Country, 1997 in the Macquarie University Art Gallery.
Ngak Ngak and the owl at night, 1997 is a particularly rare example and significant milestone for the artist. Riley, as caretaker of his mother’s country, was only allowed to paint the sun, rain and clouds but never the moon, stars or wind. In this example the artist adhered to cultural restrictions by not painting the moon but rather bathing his mother’s country in moonlight.
Centre stage is a small Ngak Ngak, the white breasted sea eagle. Riley is considered to be Ngak Ngak, inheriting it from his mother and here, he is seen keeping watchful eye over the Marra landscape. The owl is also an important totem in his Mother’s Country.
In the distance is the rock formation known as the ‘ruined city’ located near Borroloola in the Northern Territory. Riley was awarded Jungkayi (custodian) status for this site during this time. It is a very important site in Marra Dreamtime but it also exists today despite being relatively unknown and hidden off the tracks.
The bright blue Limmen Bight River can be seen on the far left and the iconic sacred Shark Liver Trees populate the foreground.
According to Beverly Knight, Executor of the Estate of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, “the artist had enormous pride when he completed this work.” This period is often considered his most adventurous. With ten years of practice and the looming retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, Riley was confident and actively inspired. He had also just won the Australia Council Fellowship (1997-98) of $80,000, which gave him the scope to have a studio of his choice and travel to Melbourne and Alice Springs to plan his exhibition.
Once the painting was completed it was reserved for the National Gallery of Victoria retrospective exhibition as a loan. Significantly, Ngak Ngak and the owl at night, 1997, was also exhibited at the Sydney Biennale in 2000 alongside the work of Yoko Ono.
 Correspondence with Beverly Knight, 2018.