I get an email from Donny Wooolagoodja and his partner Sahyma about my Wandjina tattoo. (See Cultural Inappropriation, The Nerve, December 11 2006). Donny's Wandjina artwork was featured in the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony. I thought i had better ask his permission, as one of the Elders and custodians of the Wandjina, before getting ink done.
Donny Woolagoodja was born in 1947 at Kunmunya Mission, in Worora territory. His father Sam Woolagoodja was a Worora man, born in the early 1900s when the wadjelas, or whitefellas, were starting to colonize his homeland. As a child, Sam lived the traditional life, hunting and fishing along the Kimberley coast. Sam followed the laws and customs given to the Worora. With other elders, Sam retouched the sacred Wandjina, who had left their images as paintings at rock shelters in the Kimberleys. The Worora believe if men keep these Wandjina paintings 'fresh', the rains will continue to fall, plants and animals will reproduce, and people's child spirits will remain abundant in whirlpools and waterholes throughout the Kimberley. "In the old days, only very special men could paint the Wandjina, but now we are the only ones left to paint him to keep his spirit alive," says Donny. "It's his last and only chance."
But these days it is not only the "special men" who paint the Wandjina. See Paige Taylor's article Graffiti Wandjinas risky, but in the right spirit (The Australian, January 5 2007) about Wandjina graffiti appearing around my old stomping grounds of Mount Lawley and Highgate.
Donny, the Chairman of the Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation, has given me the thumbs-up to get a tattoo of one of his Wandjinas. "Donny has no objection as it's for personal use," the email reads. "Thank you very much for asking permission , that is the proper way to go about it." Which is just as well, because painting the Wandjina without permission can result in severe tribal punishment such as a spearing. Oops-a-daisy. I hope the phantom grafitti artist has some betadine and bandages.
While on the subject, i got another rather interesting piece of correspondence, inciting me to get inked with one of the phantom graffiti artist's urban Wandjinas. A connection with connections offered to put me in touch with this phantom artist.