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Deaf Tommy Mungatopi

52 Career Overall Rank

- 2016 Market Rank

  • Born: 1923 - 1985
  • Active: Pukialingiaumau, Gidju

  • Region: Melville Island, NT, Bathurst Island, NT

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi was one of five brothers from Milikapiti who interacted with Charles Mountford during his visits to Melville Island in the 1940s. All were singers and dancers and their performances were photographed and described in detail by a number of subsequent visitors, anthropologists and collectors. Other brothers included Ali Miller Mungatopi, Laurie One Eye Nelson Mungatopi and Lame Toby Mungatopi. Paintings and carvings by all of these artists have entered major institutional collections over the years. Nevertheless works by Deaf Tommy have rarely been offered at public auction and a number of these offers have been resales. Works by the other brothers are even rarer.

In 2012 an imposing, through relatively small bark painting, Coral c.1967, sold at Bonhams for $60,000. The painting was being deaccessioned by the William Nutall Superannuation Fund after changes to the Federal Superannuation laws made holding art and collectables in self-managed funds unpalatable. Nutall, a prominent Melbourne dealer, had originally purchased the work from Sotheby's for $96,000, at the peak of the market in 2007. At the time, this set the artists highest record price at auction.

Another work, Coral Phases of the Moon had to be offered three times before finally finding a new home. When first put to sale in July 2006 at Sotheby's (Lot 39) it carried a presale estimate of $50,000-70,000 but failed to attract interest. Sotheby's tried once more in November 2007 with a slightly lower estimate of $40,000-60,000 but failed once more. Finally it did sell, for $24,000, after the owner lowered his expectations to $20,000-30,000 in Sotheby's July 2009 sale (Lot 40).

Deaf Tommy's low sales numbers have depressed his AIAM ranking, however this should rise over time. The publication of Jennifer Isaacs book Tiwi: Art History Culture, firmly posits him as a very important early influence on the contemporary art of the Tiwi people. Deaf Tommy's works are powerful representations of ceremonial significance, and it will only be the luckiest of private collectors that will ever actually own one.

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Coral c. 1967

Coral c. 1967
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 24/07/2007 for $96,000.00
Size: 71 x 50 cm

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Moonlight on Sandbars

Moonlight on Sandbars
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney on 25/11/2007 for $24,000.00
Size: 70.5 x 33.5 cm

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Pukumani Ceremony 1970s

Pukumani Ceremony 1970s
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 31/10/2006 for $8,400.00
Size: 69 x 51.5 cm

800 kilometres north of Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are home to a distinctive culture, isolated from the mainland by treacherous seas and in earlier times a determined resistance to outsiders. Plentiful food and freshwater, abundant forest and varied shorelines produced a rich island culture of ceremony and art making for which particular families became particularly renowned. The Mungatopis were one such family and Deaf Tommy Mungatopi was their revered leader during some of the crucial years of the emergence of today’s contemporary Tiwi art form. Alongside his five brothers who also were bark painters and carvers, he built upon the foundations of traditional ceremonial life in a process of both artistic continuity and creative innovation. Deaf Tommy was a sought after maker of Pukumani or funeral poles which, besides being commissioned for important funerals in his community, have become emblematic of Tiwi culture, displayed in and around state galleries nationwide.

Deaf Tommy was rendered deaf by an exploding bomb when, as a young man, he worked as a coast watcher on Melville Island during World War Two. During these years of European socialisation and religious conversion, artistic and ceremonial pursuits were strongly discouraged. Steady interest by early anthropologists and collectors, however, broadened during the 1970s when the Tiwi gained more control of their own affairs. Appreciation of Aboriginal Art and the deep traditions that lay behind it began increasing. Tiwi Art picked up a contemporary momentum and this in turn helped reaffirm Tiwi culture and identity.  Deaf Tommy lived at Milikapiti (originally meaning milk and cup of tea) and worked at the Jilamara Art Centre, which is known for its high esteem of Tiwi history. In the museum attached to the art centre his works (and war medals) are now displayed alongside other famous figures (including the Baldwin, Spencer and Mountford archival photographs) that still inform the modern tradition. Today’s best known painters and carvers on Melville and Bathurst islands still seek guidance and inspiration there.

The two seasonally distinct ceremonies that mark the Tiwi calendar are the rituals of increase and the rituals of mourning. In the Pulinari or creation times, death was unknown to the Tiwi until Tapara, the moon man, seduced Bima, the wife of his brother Purukapali.  This caused the neglect and death of her baby son, Jinani. Purukapali found his dead son and created the first Pukumani ceremony. Then, weeping and wailing, he walked into the sea, holding the body in his upstretched arms. It is this final stance that is said to be the origin of the tall, elaborately painted Pukumani poles or Tutini. They are brightly and exquisitely painted in ochre bands of geometric design that may also include figurative elements. Over time they gradually weather away until only black stumps remain, standing amid the stringy bark trees. The Tiwi do not overly intellectualise their art, they watch, listen, dance and sing and their knowledge arises in a more sensate way, seen in the fierce beauty of their dances, body decoration and painting design. Deaf Tommy had a distinctive painting style that incorporates alternating bands of dotting applied by his wooden comb, the pwoja, and sequences of dashes or linked diamonds. Particularly in his bark painting he could evoke the physical atmosphere of a landscape or place through the juxtaposition of sequential repetition and variation. He captured the shimmering effect of sun or moonlight playing across the surface of the water, skilfully evoking the sense of ancestral presence. It is a visual language of pattern and rhythm that constantly evolves and re-invents itself, as it has done for generations. Deaf Tommy was a master of mid-century painting, one of the leading artists of his generation and is represented in most major collections of Tiwi art, including five Tutini poles that are part of a group installed in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia.

Profile author: Sophie Baka

Collections:

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.
Australian Museum, Sydney.
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

Group Exhibitions:


1993/4 - ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark.
1991 - Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra.

Bibliography:
Caruana, W., 1987, Australian Aboriginal Art, a Souvenir Book of Aboriginal Art in the Australian National Gallery, Australian National Gallery, Parkes, Australian Capital Territory. (C).
Caruana, W., Aboriginal Art, World of Art Series, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003.
Crumlin, R., (ed.), 1991, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, Victoria. (C).
Isaacs, J., 1984, Australia's Living Heritage, Arts of the Dreaming, Lansdowne Press, Sydney. (C).
1993, Aratjara, Art of the First Australians: Traditional and Contemporary Works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists, exhib. cat. (conceived and designed by Bernard Luthi in collaboration with Gary Lee), Dumont, Buchverlag, Koln. (C).
Le Brun Holmes, Sandra, 1995, The Goddess and the Moon Man: the Sacred Art of the Aborigines,Craftsman House Sydney.
Norton, F., 1975, Aboriginal Art, Western Australian Art Gallery Board with the assistance of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.
 

Profile References

Discovery Media. current. NATSIVAD. Melbourne. Documentation Pty Ltd.
Caruana, W. 1993. Aboriginal Art. London. Thames and Hudson.
Isaacs, J. 2012. TIWI: Art History Culture. Melbourne. The Miegunyah Press.
Le Brun Holmes, Sandra. 1995. The Goddess and the Moon Man: The Sacred Art of the Tiwi Aborigines. Sydney. Craftsman House.

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Coral Phases of the Moon

Coral Phases of the Moon
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 20/07/2009 for $24,000.00
Size: 95 x 31 cm

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Moonlight on the Sea

Moonlight on the Sea
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney on 25/11/2007 for $16,800.00
Size: 69 x 31.5 cm

Deaf Tommy Mungatopi - Pukumani Ceremony 1970s

Pukumani Ceremony 1970s
Sold by Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne on 31/10/2006 for $8,400.00
Size: 69 x 51.5 cm

Sites

Melville Bay , Milikapiti

Subjects

Pukumani Poles, Flying Fox

Medium

Natural Earth Pigment on Eucalyptus Bark, Sculpture

Regional Map

Note: This map is a representation and not accurate. Some sites are sacred and therefore not shown.

Market Performance

Career Totals

AIAM100 Rank
52
AIAM100 Rating
3.2508
Sold/Offered
12/20
Clearance Rate
60%
Average Price
$28,459
Total Price
$341,505
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
0.0000 0.1549 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.3699 0.6406 0.0000 0.1549 0.0000 0.0000 0.2449 0.0000 0.1562 0.0000 0.0000
0/0 1/1 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 2/3 3/4 0/1 1/1 0/0 0/0 1/2 0/0 1/1 0/2 0/1
$0 $24,000 $0 $0 $0 $0 $34,200 $45,600 $0 $24,000 $0 $0 $60,000 $0 $24,400 $0 $0
Yearly Market Performance Graph from 2000 - 2016

Top 10 Artworks Sold at Auction

1

Coral c. 1967

sale price: $96,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 78 date: 24/07/2007
71 x 50 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
2

Coral 1968

sale price: $60,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 56 date: 31/07/2006
92 x 40.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
3

Coral

sale price: $60,000.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 159 date: 28/05/2012
71 x 50 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
4

Coral Designs, C.1965

sale price: $24,400.00
auction: Bonhams, Sydney  lot: 60 date: 11/05/2014
62 x 22 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
5

All-Bin-Mix-Up c. 1957

sale price: $24,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 36 date: 09/07/2001
100 x 34 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
6

Moonlight on Sandbars

sale price: $24,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney  lot: 41 date: 25/11/2007
70.5 x 33.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptis bark
7

Coral Phases of the Moon

sale price: $24,000.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 40 date: 20/07/2009
95 x 31 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
8

Moonlight on the Sea

sale price: $16,800.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Sydney  lot: 40 date: 25/11/2007
69 x 31.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
9

Pukumani Ceremony 1970s

sale price: $8,400.00
auction: Sotheby's Australia Pty. Ltd., Melbourne  lot: 82 date: 31/10/2006
69 x 51.5 cm Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
10

Coral Design, C 1965

sale price: $1,980.00
auction: Lawsons, Sydney  lot: 561 date: 13/03/1995
84 x 44.5 cm Ochre on bark

Available Artworks

Sorry There are currently no artworks available for this artist.