Ŋulwurr #2 Yunupiŋu, Waṉkurra, 108x38cm Bark
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- Aboriginal Artist - Ŋulwurr #2 Yunupiŋu
- Community - Yirkala
- Homeland - Biranybirany
- Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
- Catalogue number - 8722-22
- Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
- Size(cm) - H108 W38 D1 (irregular shape)
- Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount
- Orientation - Wired to hang as displayed though OK to hang horizontally on the metal brace
In ancestral times, the leaders of Yirritja moiety clans used fire for the first time during a ceremony at Ŋalarrwuy in Gumatj country. This came about as fire brought to the Madarrpa clan country by Bäru the ancestral crocodile, spread north and swept through the ceremonial ground. From this ceremonial ground the fire spread further to other sites. Various ancestral animals were affected and reacted in different ways. These animals became sacred totems of the Gumatj people and the areas associated with these events became important sites.
The fire spread inland from the ceremonial ground and burnt the nest of Waṉkurra (Bandicoot) forcing him to hide in a hollow log ḻarrakitj to save himself. Waṉkurra is thus danced and sung at mortuary ceremony as he is associated with the burial log used to contain the bones of the deceased.
Djirikitj, the quail, (sometimes called the’ fire making bird’), picked up a burning twig from this fire and flew away with it, dropping it at Maṯamaṯa. There is a large paperbark swamp at Maṯamaṯa, where native honey bees live. Fire from the burning twig dropped by Djirikitj took hold of the tall grass in the swamp area and the native bees fled to Djiliwirri in Gupapuyŋu clan country. Thus Gupapuyŋu honey and Gumatj fire are linked through these ancestral events and also refer to a relationship between these two clans which is played out in ceremony.
The honey eating Pee-Wee Biṯiwiṯi built its nest high up in the trees safe from the fire- its song was to be heard after the morning of the fire. The indestructible spider Garr came out after the fire had passed and spun its web between the trees which is said to catch the souls of the Yirritja dead. Garrtjambal the kangaroo was as frightened as Waṉkurra and ran away from the fire burning his feet in the hot ash as he did so. Waṉkurra traveled through the hollow log with its tail on fire transferring the Gumatj identity to new places.
The harbinger of death is Ŋerrk, sulphur crested white cockatoo who is intimately associated with this place, these people and this ceremony. Another powerful Gumatj bird is Djilawurr whose sites are often associated with freshwater rainforest adjacent to the harbours of Macassans.
These creatures are all associated with named sites which were burnt as the ancestral fire spread across the land. Where the sites described occur outside Gumatj clan country, the path of the fire represents important relationships held between these clans.
The Gumatj clan design associated with these events, a diamond design, represents fire; the red flames, the white smoke and ash, the black charcoal and the yellow dust. Also the black skin, yellow fat, white bone and red blood of Gumatj people. Clans owning connected parts of this sequence of ancestral events share variations of this diamond design.
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
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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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