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Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark

Bandarr Wirrpanda, Ganybu, 84x51cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Bandarr Wirrpanda
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Dhuruputjpi
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 3301/18
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H84 W51 D0.6  (irregular shape)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability
  • Orientation - Ready to hang as displayed though OK to hang horizontally

Long ago, two spirit-men called Djirrawit and Nyäluŋ made a fish trap (Dhawurr) in the Gurriyalayala River at Waṉḏawuy. The fish trap was made of upright posts forked at the top with a long crosspiece sitting in the forks. The space between was filled in with more upright sticks (Dharpa) interwoven with horizontal sticks.

Then Djirrawit and Nyäluŋ cut pieces of bark from the Dhaŋgi tree, pounded them to release the poison, and threw them into the river. The poison in the bark turned the water black and stunned the catfish (Gaṉŋal).

To collect all the stunned fish they used their fishing spears (Gara) and double-sided triangular fishing nets (Ganybu) made of bush string (Raki’). Djirrawit and Nyäluŋ got the idea for the special shape of these nets from watching pelicans (Gaḻumay) catching fish in their big bills.

Yolŋu people learned from the two spirit-men how to catch fish this way and still do some times when there is a big gathering of people needing much food.

The central motif to this work represents the Ganybu or handheld net used to scoop fish out of these waters in the style of a pelicans beak. 

Gaḻumay is the pelican that inhabits the flood plains. When the waters begin to dry up and the waterholes become smaller, the catfish called Gan\al are hunted by Gaḻumay. Both the Djapu and Dhudi-Djapu sing in ceremony Gaḻumay and Gaṉŋal as totemic species and for increase.

The songs of Galumay connect between this and a saltwater area both visited by Galumay.

The sacred Buŋgul (dance) and Manikay (song) which embodies Galumay is reserved for very special occasions in Djapu clan life. Much of the underlying symbolism relies on references to the Pelican’s ability to catch fish with its huge bill. In hunting yabbies in the crocodile-infested billabongs, the women and children fan out like Pelicans and create a ‘dragnet’ which leaves little behind. Djapu clansmen have always used a triangular, scissor-like net made from the bark of the Kurrajong to catch fish imitating their ancestral relation the Pelican.

If a member of the clan has offended against another and is required to be brought to account under Yolŋu law the Djapu escorting him to the place of justice will dance the Pelican relying on the qualities of gentle shepherding inherent in the fishing style and bill of this great hunter.

And lastly but most importantly once the long and complicated mortuary rituals of the Yolŋu are completed and the spirit of their departed kinsman has been ‘sung’ through the ancestral songlines of his kinship country back to the ‘island of the dead’, Buralku, it is the Pelican or fish trap which catches the soul of the deceased and guides it to its destination and final resting place.

The identity of Djapu clansperson and country is formed by these constant references in song, ceremony, and everyday life to the being and personality of Galumay, not to mention the large numbers of Pelicans who make this area their home. The Djapu and Pelicans continue to share their age-old homeland. 

In many ways, the harvesting and material production to create bark paintings is an art in itself. The bark is stripped from Eucalyptus stringybark. It is generally harvested from the tree during the wet season. Two horizontal slices and a single vertical slice are made into the tree, and the bark is carefully peeled off. The smooth inner bark is kept and placed in a fire. After firing, the bark is flattened and weighted to dry flat. Once dry, the bark becomes a rigid surface and is ready to paint upon.

Collecting Barks in Yirkala

Djawakan Marika, Yilpirr Wanambi, Wukun Wanambi and Nambatj Munu+ïgurr Harvesting stringybark for artists Photo credit: David Wickens

Harvesting barks for artists to paint in Yirkala

Wanapa Munu+ïgurr, Yilpirr Wanambi and Wukun Wanambi harvesting stringybark. Photo credit: David Wickens

Firing a bark ready for artists to paint in Yirkala

Wanapa and Nambatj Munu+ïgurr firing a bark to start the flattening process. Photo credit: David Wickens

Arnhem Land paintings are characterised by the use of fine crosshatched patterns of clan designs that carry ancestral power: the crosshatched patterns, known as rarrk in the west and miny’tji in the east, produce an optical brilliance reflecting the presence of ancestral forces.

These patterns are composed of layers of fine lines, laid onto the surface of the bark using a short-handled brush of human hair, just as they are painted onto the body for ceremony.

Aboriginal Artists, Rerrkiwaŋa Munuŋgurr painting her husbands design Gumatj fire or Gurtha.

Rerrkiwaŋa Munuŋgurr painting her husbands design Gumatj fire or Gurtha. Photo credit: Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre

The artist’s palette consists of red and yellow ochres of varying intensity and hues, from flat to lustrous, as well as charcoal and white clay(pictured above). Pigments that were once mixed with natural binders such as egg yolk have, since the 1960s, been combined with water-soluble wood glues.

Naminapu Maymuru White collecting gapan white clay used for painting.

Naminapu Maymuru White collecting gapan white clay used for painting. Photo credit: Edwina Circuitt


Details currently unavailable

Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community-controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the north-eastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolŋu (Aboriginal) staff of around twenty services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km.

In the 1960’s, Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre’s main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolŋu-owned business to sell Yolŋu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that exhibits and sells globally.

Buku-Larrŋgay –  “the feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun (i.e. facing East) 

Mulka – “a sacred but public ceremony.”

In 1976, the Yolŋu artists established ‘Buku-Larrŋgay Arts’ in the old Mission health centre as an act of self-determination coinciding with the withdrawal of the Methodist Overseas Mission and the Land Rights and Homeland movements.

In 1988, a new museum was built with a Bicentenary grant and this houses a collection of works put together in the 1970s illustrating clan law and also the Message Sticks from 1935 and the Yirrkala Church Panels from 1963.

In 1996, a screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces was added to the space to provide a range of different mediums to explore. In 2007, The Mulka Project was added which houses and displays a collection of tens of thousands of historical images and films as well as creating new digital product. 

Still on the same site but in a greatly expanded premises Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre now consists of two divisions; the Yirrkala Art Centre which represents Yolŋu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the museum.


Text courtesy: Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre

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