The sculpture of Mary of Warnum, a remarkable representation of the Virgin Mary by aborigine artist George Mung Mung is currently on show for the first time in twenty years at the McGlade Gallery of Australian Catholic University, Sydney. It is one of the select few works of art included in some editions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The sculpture forms part of an exhibition entitled ‘Gift of the Artists’ of work by a number of aborigine artists from the Warnum Community in East Kimberley, Australia. The works on show were given to the Sisters of St Joseph in Warnum or purchased by them during their stay at Warnum over 40 years at the Mirrilingki Retreat Centre. They have now come to Sydney for restoration and are being put on display. Some have never been seen outside the retreat centre and it is only the third time in 20 years that the Virgin of Warnum has left the retreat centre, by kind permission of George Mung Mung’s nephew and the community.
Christianity was brought to the village by an elder who was schooled outside and became a Christian. She persuaded the elders to invite a religious community to come and set up a school there to teach the faith, and the Sisters of St Joseph were invited. Many artists produced works to help educate the children in the Christian faith and also into the faith of their ancestors, too.
The collection of art works fuse the folklore of the Gija people and Catholic faith. George Mung Mung’s Virgin was carved to replace a plaster statue of the Virgin knocked over by some dogs while children were praying. He used wood from a tree bough from deep in the Bungle bungles, having vowed to make them a statue of Mary which would not break. She was originally called the ‘Pregnant Mary’ and is painted with a body paint design as worn by unmarried Warmun girls. “Her womb is like a shield under her heart where her unborn man-child dances. He is the One. She is the Mother,” Sr Rosemary Crumlin RSM explains in a feature on the Archdiocese of Sydney website. “Mary of Warmun and the other artworks at the exhibition epitomise what the two pillars of the Warmun culture which are – the Dreaming or Ngarrangkarni which centres on the living land, the ancestors and their stories, and the Bible, especially the Creation and the Jesus and Mary gospel stories.”
The exhibition continues until 25th May