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.