Alick Tipoti / Kala Lagaw Ya people / Australia b.1975 / Kudusur 2017 / Synthetic polymer paint / Mural: dimensions 2800 x 11460 cm / Commissioned 2017. Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Alick Tipoti
Kudusur 2017

On Display: QAG, Gallery 11

Kudusur 2017 translates as ‘poling with elbow’. This work is Tipoti’s interpretation of the spiritual ancestors, Thoegay and Kang, known to his people as the Zugubal. Thoegay and Kang are two brothers, who extend their elbows and use them as paddles for their canoe. Keen-sighted Thoegay sits at the front, and Kang is blind and sits at the back. Kang is always chewing on a medicine plant.

Tipoti explains that this mural depicts the brothers summoning the winds to blow, because they wish to sail to another island. Four spiritual figures appear from the sea through whirly-winds. These are ancestral spirits — the ancient Zugubal. They have come to present the winds of different directions or seasons that blow in the Torres Strait Islands, so the brothers can choose one blowing towards their destination. Left to right, they read as: Naygay (dry season), Sager (trade wind season), Kuki (monsoon season), and Zey (a transitional period).

Thoegay and Kang are spiritual super-humans, masters of witchcraft and other kinds of island magic. At the bow of the canoe, they place a skull of another ancient ancestor, so that they can communicate with the spirit world through it.

Between the brothers in the canoe is a Bu (trumpet shell), which has been rubbed with leaves from a sacred plant. The sound from the Bu clears the skies at night, exposing only the stars that will guide the brothers to their destination. The stars Tipoti refers to came before what we see today — the ones we see now are Thoegay and Kang themselves.

Alick Tipoti dedicates this important work to all the Tagai campus students throughout the Torres Strait region, from the Waybeni Koey Ngurpay Mudh secondary school on Waiben (Thursday Island) to all the campuses on the outer islands in the Torres Strait. As a simple interpretation of ancient knowledge, this is a guide and blessing to the young generation of Torres Strait Islanders that they may shine brighter, like the stars of Thoegay and Kang.

Alick Tipoti was born on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, in 1975. Growing up he lived mainly on Badu Island — an area he relates to through his paternal lineage — and Horn Island, while commuting to Thursday Island for his secondary education.

As a teenager he developed a deep interest in art, taking art classes at the TAFE College on Thursday Island, followed by printmaking studies in Townsville, Cairns and Canberra.

As a young man, Tipoti developed a passion for the stories of his ancestors, particularly those of Badhu (Badu Island), and continues the Islander storytelling tradition through dance performances, printmaking, sculpture and large murals.

Tipoti is inspired by the ancient artefacts of the Torres Strait Islands, which he has seen in universities and museums, and from the traditional stories handed down and recorded by his father and the recognised elders of the Torres Strait.


Dionissia Giakoumi, ‘Alick Tipoti: The sea is history’, in Fortitude: New Art from Queensland, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2000, p.46.