PAMBEGAN, Alair; Kalben
Alair Pambegan is a Wik-Mungkan man who lives in the western Cape York community of Aurukun in north Queensland. He creates artworks based on the stories handed down from his father, the late, revered lawman, elder and artist Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan Jr (1936–2010), who was custodian for significant ancestral story places and their associated narratives.
Alair Pambegan’s Kalben 2016–17 tells the story of two young brothers who broke an initiation rite, which included abstaining from hunting and eating certain animals. The brothers sneaked out of camp and caught hundreds of bats, putting them in a kup-mar (ground oven). Not satisfied with their catch, the boys went out to kill more bats. A group of older men noticed the boys’ absence and searched the camp. Finding the kup-mar, they removed its coverings and the bats burst out. The bats then encircled the brothers, picking them up and carrying them into the night sky. Today, two black patches can be seen in the Milky Way, and these are the final resting places of the young men.
Pambegan’s forms – painted in a sequence of red, white, black, white stripes – refer to the traditional body-painting designs of Wik-Mungkan ceremonies. Pambegan’s installation evokes the swarm of bats as they seize the brothers, taking them to their final resting place among the stars. The important story embodied in this artwork serves as an enduring reminder to Wik-Mungkan people of the importance of observing cultural law and protocol.