Installation view of Paul McCann’s work <em>The Rainbow Serpent</em> 2022 on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023.    Image: Tom Ross

Paul McCann

Paul McCann
(Marrithiyel b. 1984, Darwin, Northern Territory. Lives and works in Melbourne)

Paul McCann is a Marrithiyel man born and raised on his family’s traditional Country, 350 kilometres south-west of Darwin. Having watched his father’s uncles and aunties create paintings, wood carvings and didgeridoos from a young age, McCann, in his current art practice, depicts the landscape of his traditional Country through wearable art and jewellery. Now based in Melbourne, McCann explores modern and abstract ways to bring his traditional culture into the realm of contemporary fashion and jewellery.

The Rainbow Serpent, 2022, is a work of gumnut jewellery drawing on the Marrithiyel version of the Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent. McCann recalls:

Growing up in the 1990s I remember having a copy of Dick Roughsey’s children’s book The Rainbow Serpent (1992). This book became one of my go-to story books to read, with all its mystery and enchantment. Many tribes have had different encounters with the serpent, and it can take on different meanings. Goorialla can be responsible for the creation of waterholes and new life on Country and seen as a deity of change as the serpent shed its skin.

McCann studied fashion design at Darwin’s Charles Darwin University. In 2021, his Gumnut ball gown appeared in the first-ever First Nations runway event at Australian Fashion Week. McCann went on to win the Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art Award at the 2021 National Indigenous Fashion Awards.