Kuninjku artist Owen Yalandja is a senior member of the Dangkorlo clan, the custodians of an important yawkyawk site. Members of the Dangkorlo clan have set up their outstation community at Barrihdjowkkeng near a billabong that is a Yirridjdja moiety sacred site for the yawkyawk spirits. Yawkyawk or young spirit girls live in this billabong and their shadows can occasionally be seen as they flee the smell of humans who approach the water. They are imagined to have been girls who transformed into mermaid- like figures with fish tails. The identity of this group is very much related to their yawkyawk dreaming for which they have spiritual and practical responsibility.
Yalandja's repertoire is almost exclusively concerned with representations of the yawkyawk spirits in sculpted form. In the early 1980s, Yalandja learned carving from his father, renowned artist Crusoe Kuningbal who invented, in the early 1970s the representation of mimih spirit in sculptural form for use in a trade ceremony called Mamurrng. Yalandja and his brother Crusoe Kurddal followed their father's legacy but over the years have found their own styles. In the early 1990s, Yalandja experimented with the dot patterns his father taught him, and created V shaped marks to suggest scales of the watery beings. As Yalandja has said
I make it [yawkyawk] according to my individual ideas ()My father used to decorate them with dots. A long time ago, he showed me how to do this. But this style is my own, no one else does them like this.
Yalandja only uses kurrajong tree for carving and carefully selects trunks which can be thin and curvilinear to give his figures a sinuous appearance.
Yalandja is now teaching his son Dustin Bonson to carve and make mimih spirits. Yalandja is also well known in the Maningrida area as a singer for the Yawkyawk style diplomacy ceremonies. His work is now represented in major Australian collections and has been exhibiting his works in many group shows since 1993.
Courtesy Maningrida Arts & Culture centre, 2016