Djirrirra Wunuŋmurra Yukuwa, Buyku, 89x46cm Bark
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- Aboriginal Artist - Djirrirra Wunuŋmurra
- Community - Yirkala
- Homeland - Gurrumuru
- Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
- Catalogue number - 2913-19
- Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
- Size(cm) - H89 W46 D0.6 (irregular)
- Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount on reverse
- Orientation - Ready to hang as displayed but can be hung horizontally
Artworks of this nature have multiple layers of metaphor and meaning which give lessons about the connections between an individual and specific pieces of country (both land and sea), as well as the connections between various clans but also explaining the forces that act upon and within the environment and the mechanics of a spirit’s path through existence. The knowledge referred to by this imagery deepens in complexity and secrecy as a person progresses through a life long learning process.
A sacred expanse of water behind the Gangan outstation where this work was produced is referred to as Gulutji. The initial activities of Barama the great Ancestral Being for the Yirritja moiety took place here. Travelling from the seaside at Blue Mud Bay he emerged from the waters of Gulutji. Council was held with ‘Disciple’ Ancestors and Yirritja Law was ‘written’. From this place the Yirritja (the Yirritja moiety together with the Dhuwa moiety forms a duality system that keeps all past, present and future life in balance) nation spread as it traversed its country establishing clan estates and governing policy including language, ceremonial ritual and miny’tji (signature of sacred design of event and place- this word describes the patterns employed in this work).
One of the metaphorical overviews of the work is the union between the different subgroups of the Dhalwaŋu clan in the ancestral cycle of regular fishtrap ceremonies they join together in celebrating. The last one of these was five years ago. These gatherings are ceremonial but also social and educational.
The sacred diamond design generally refers to the waters around Gangan but here are now triangles which show the structure of the fishtrap made during Mirrawarr (early Dry Season) with Rangan (paperbark) and wooden stakes. This is the Buyku or fishtrap area which is ‘company’ land (ie. shared by all the people who live by/sing the river). The Dhalwaŋu and allied groups who participate in this song cycle and fishing activity are hunting Baypinŋa (Saratoga) as does the Gany’tjurr (Reef Heron) which they identify with as the archetypal Yirritja hunter.
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.
Djawakan Marika, Yilpirr Wanambi, Wukun Wanambi and Nambatj Munu+ïgurr Harvesting stringybark for artists Photo credit: David Wickens
Wanapa Munu+ïgurr, Yilpirr Wanambi and Wukun Wanambi harvesting stringybark. Photo credit: David Wickens
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.
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. Photo credit: Edwina Circuitt
Djirrirra (also known as Yukuwa) assisted her father, Yanggarriny Wunungmurra (1932-2003), in his Telstra Award winning painting of 1997 and continually up un l his death in 2003. She has also assisted her brother Nawurapu Wunungmurra, but now primarily paints her own works. Her father granted her this authority whilst he was alive. Her precise hand and geometric style has increasingly attracted enthusiastic interest from the art world. As she came to the notice of Buku-Larrnggay co-ordinators for her exquisite hand and innovative composition she was included in her first major exhibition and her first visit to the world outside of Arnhem Land, in a show at Ra Artspace in Darwin in 2006 which featured her and two other Gangan artists, Yumutjin Wunungmurra and Waturr Gumana. In 2007 she was selected for Cross Currents, a major art survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Her rise to a level of notice was cemented when she was announced Winner of the TOGA Northern Territory Contemporary Art Award in 2008. From here she was invited to her first solo show at Vivien Anderson Gallery in 2009. She has lived at the remote homeland of Gangan since she was born (before Western housing was erected) and has three children. She has exhibited in the US and China and in Australia with Vivien Anderson Gallery in Melbourne and Short street in Broome. In 2012 she followed her father and brother as a Telstra winner with Best Bark at the 29th NATSIAA with a new theme- Yukuwa. In Found at Annandale in 2013 she followed Gunybi Ganambarr into extending her use of media beyond naturally occurring ochres and bark to include recycled found industrial waste materials such as MDF and perspex louvres. In this year she again visited the US as part of a print collaboration between the Yirrkala Print Space and the Tamarind Institute where she worked with American Indigenous artists in Albuquerque. In 'Black and White' at Outstation Gallery in 2017 her lyrical Yukuwa (yam) inspired paintings on board featured in collaboration with an installation of her brothers Larrakitj. Yukuwa is one of the personal names of the artist and Yukuwa has become a distinct theme in her practice. This motif first arose when she had been challenged about her right to paint Buyku the fishtrap imagery of her own clan and homeland by a family member. Rather than argue she retorted by painting imagery which in one sense is her own personal identity.
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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