Yolngu pioneer artist and activist Dr B Marika AO dies aged 66

A renowned Indigenous artist, activist and Yolngu leader, who has dedicated decades of her life to protecting the country where she grew up, has died at the age of 66.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that permission has been granted to use the subject’s name.

Tributes poured in from across the Northern Territory as leaders and community members mourn the death of Dr. B Marika AO, an internationally renowned artist known for painting ancestral creation stories on printed lino.

Remembering her family members as an “absolute force of nature”, Dr B Marika AO passed away on Monday.

“Our hearts are heavy and our land is heavy with its loss,” said Dr Marika’s niece Mayatili Marika.

Dr B Marika AO, a Yolngu woman who grew up in Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land, was among the first women to be encouraged by male parents to paint ancestral creation stories, a tradition previously reserved to men.

His work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

In 1994, she was one of seven artists to win a legal battle against a company that illegally reproduced their work.

A decade later, she helped secure the Heritage List of Yalangbara, an important creation site in northeast Arnhem Land.

She was awarded an Order of Australia in 2019 and in 2020 she was recognized as the NT Principal Territorial of the Year.

This artwork by Dr B Marika AO – Rirratjingu people, fish – is also in the National Gallery of Australia.(

Provided: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Born in 1954, Dr B Marika AO spent years away from home, advancing her career which included stays as Artist in Residence at the Canberra School of Art and Flinders University in South Australia.

But in 1988, she returned to Yirrkala to take over the management of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Center and Museum.

“She was a silent director who was very humble,” said Mayatili Marika.

“She was an environmental activist, she was a political activist, she was an artist and she was a spokesperson for our people.

Ms Marika said that Dr B Marika AO had spent her life “healing the earth and caring for the earth”.

“The void that has been left now that she is gone from this earth will be felt forever,” she said.

“It has touched many generations and decades of politicians throughout the history of our country.”

In a social media post, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said Dr B Marika AO was widely admired.

“It is with great sadness that I watch the passing of Dr B Marika AO, an inspiring Yolngu leader and deeply respected senior member of the Rirratjingu clan of northeastern Arnhem Land,” he wrote. .

“Dr B Marika AO grew up in a family of powerful lawmakers, artists and intellectuals.

“She became a vivid embodiment of all this knowledge and she held it to the highest levels of scholarship.

“I knew her and admired her. We have lost a person who spoke with so much knowledge and love for her land and her people.”

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