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Dennis NONA

Kala Lagaw Ya people

Badu (Mulgrave) Island, Torres Strait Islands, Queensland, Australia born 1973

Urban Art Projects


Ubirikubiri of the Awailau Kasa 2007 Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
sculptures, metalwork, bronze and pearlshell
Technique: bronze and pearl shell
110.0 h x 360.0 w x 120.0 d cm
Gift of Janet and John Calvert-Jones, 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.438
Courtesy of the artist and the Australian Art Print Network


  • Dennis Nona is the first Torres Strait Islander artist in the almost quarter-century history of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award to win the overall prize in August 2007 for his majestic bronze sculpture Ubirikubiri 2007.

    Nona is from the Kala Lagaw Ya (Western Torres Strait Island) people, whose totems are Tabu (snake) and Tupmul (stingray). Renowned as one of the leading Torres Strait Islander printmakers, Nona recently expanded his ouevre to include three-dimensional works, masterfully transforming his two-dimensional visionary depictions from linocuts on paper – already stunning in their complex portrayal of customary stories – into the medium of bronze.

    Ubirikubiri was preceded by Apu Kaz (Mother and baby dugong) 2007, an equally impressive bronze work comprising two intricately cast, life-size dugongs, which in turn developed from earlier life-size carvings of dugongs – a highly prized traditional food for the traditional custodians of the Torres Strait Islands – hewn from far north Queensland cedar.

    Both these bronzes were included in Culture Warriors, the inaugural National Indigenous Art Triennial, which opened on 13 October 2007 as part of the Gallery’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations. Nona’s sculptures greet visitors to the exhibition, alongside fellow Queensland artists Danie Mellor’s phantasmagorical installations and Vernon Ah Kee’s wall-text work, creating a whimsical, historical fantasy-scape.

    Ubirikubiri depicts an ancestral story originally from Papua New Guinea, the closest neighbours of the Torres Strait Islands. The story involves the Mai Kusi River on the west coast of Papua New Guinea, and Ubirikubiri, the crocodile. The warrior figure lying prone on Ubirikubiri’s reptilian back was killed in retribution for maltreating the crocodile. The intricate carving on the sculpture relates various aspects of the story and is a masterly development of Nona’s skill as a printmaker, evident in the near-biblical creation narrative represented in the impressive 6-metre-long linocut Yarwarr 2007.

    This magnificent sculpture has been acquired for the national collection through the magnanimous support of Janet and John Calvert-Jones and will be a key work in the Stage One extensions of the greatly expanded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander permanent collection galleries.

    Brenda L Croft
    Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

  • Dennis Nona is one of a group of contemporary Torres Strait artists whose distinctive works elaborate on the traditions of the peoples of the archipelago, who have social, cultural and trade connections with the Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. Nona pioneered highly intricate and large-scale linocut prints which he developed into the sculptural medium through a successful association with the Brisbane art foundry Urban Art Projects. Transferring whole narratives from his epic prints into three dimensions is a natural progression for the artist who, in his early years, was trained in traditional wood-carving techniques by his elders on Badu Island.

    In Ubirikubirri … 2007 the artist creates a life-sized drama, in bronze and pearl shell, based on a parable about the relationship between humans and animals.

    After the death of his wife, an ancestral warrior from Badu Island goes hunting on the Mai Kasa (river) on the coast of Papua New Guinea. He returns to the Awailau Kasa on Badu with a live baby crocodile as a present to console his young daughter. The daughter names the crocodile Ubirikubirri. The animal grows very large and the father must keep enlarging its pen. When the animal is fully grown the father has to visit another village for some time. The animal is left hungry and annoyed. The father returns to feed Ubirikubirri but the animal kills him. Breaking out of its pen, it places the warrior on its back and swims the Mai Kasa, parading the dead body as a lesson about removing animals from their natural environment.

    Avril Quaill

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010