Alair Pambegan / Wik-Mungkan people / Australia b.1966 / Kalben (detail) 2016–17 / Carved wood with synthetic polymer paint and natural pigments, raffia / 107 pieces ranging from 14 to 41cm in length; installed dimensions variable / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Alair Pambegan
Kalben 2016–2017

On Display: GOMA, Gallery 3.5

Alair’s artwork is based on the Flying Fox (Kalben) Story Place, which tells the story of two brothers undergoing initiation rites. A major part of these rites involves not hunting certain animals. The brothers broke this rule by sneaking out of ceremony and killing hundreds of flying foxes; they then cooked them in a ground oven. After discovering what the boys had done, their ancestors punished them by reviving the bats, which burst forth from the ground and carried the brothers away into the night sky — the bats scattered from east to west, creating the Milky Way galaxy.

Kalben 2016–17 is a sculpture made up of 107 carved pieces of wood, painted in Winchanam body-painting designs, which are suspended from string like flying foxes in flight.

Alair Pambegan lives and works in Aurukun, on the west coast of Cape York in north Queensland. He is heir to the Wik-Mungkan artistic traditions, and custodian of the Flying Fox (Kalben) Story Place and Bonefish (Walkaln-aw) Story Place. These stories, and the responsibilities that come with them, were handed down from his father, Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan Jr (1936–2010), who was also an artist.


Research the movement of flying foxes as they leave their resting sites each evening. Describe the shapes and patterns they make in the sky as they fly and roost in treetops.

During your visit to APT9

Look closely at the suspended wooden forms. Which part of the Kalben story has the artist represented? Describe the movement created by the carved wooden forms and string. Flying foxes have wings, but this is not how the artist represents them. What does the artist focus on instead?


  • the movement and representation of animals in Alair Pambegan’s artwork with Jonathan Jones’s work, which is located in GOMA
  • Pambegan’s artwork with other artists’ works in APT9 who innovate using traditional skills or knowledge passed down through the generations.


Have you ever done anything that you have been told not to? Create a stylised artwork about an important aspect of your personal story.

Contemporary context

How does Alair Pambegan:

  • use materials, technologies or approaches to impact the audience experience?

Personal context

How does Alair Pambegan:

  • communicate influences on their life and experiences?
  • generate ideas from their own experiences, imagination or memories?

Cultural context

How does Alair Pambegan:

  • explore cultural traditions?
  • respond to cultural influences?
  • respond to influences of art movements, styles and origins of time and place?

Formal context

How does Alair Pambegan:

  • employ specific art elements and principles to communicate meaning?
  • communicate intentions using symbols, motifs or signs?
  • enhance the interpretation of the artwork through processes, materials and media?
  • share characteristics with art movements, times, places or events?