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Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
  • Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
  • Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
  • Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
  • Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
  • Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark
Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark

Wanapati Yunupiŋu, Gumatj, 157x58cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Wanapati Yunupiŋu
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Wandawuy and Biranybirany
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 1099/17
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H157 W58 D0.6  
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability
  • Orientation - As displayed

Wanapati is a young son of high profile artist Minyawany #1. He is working in the same style of his father who passed away in July 2008 The paintings produced by the contemporary Yolŋu artists of rank, qualified by their own kin systems, their art centre and market place contain elements of a profound and secret nature. Manifest in these sacred designs is the knowledge that is the key to the essence of Yolŋu Rom (law). The Rom has its foundation in the ancient chronicles of the times around the first morning. The chronicles in the form of manikay (ceremonial song), miny’tji (sacred design) and bungul (traditional dance) tell of Ancestral Deeds of Creation. The place where Yolŋu confer, philosophise and relive these times and the relationships these events have with Yolŋu Rom is reserved for the most senior rank of men. As with the Madarrpa clan, the Gumatj revere the Ancestral Crocodile Bäru and its associations with the Ancestral Fire. Much of the surface mythology has similarities between the two clans but are unequivocally separate as each clan sings of events of different place and country. This has been qualified in this work by Wanapati by using iconography in conjunction with design that can only have reference to the Gumatj land around Biranybirany and Ancestral events that occurred there. The cross hatched diamond design of Gumatj fire is constant throughout. The fire or Gurtha is the life force for this clan. Its actions can be related to rejuvenation, knowledge, creation, mortuary, Yolŋu and land. The design depicts the connections between the Yarrwiḏi Gumatj and the Rrakpa`a Gumatj in the sea between Biranybirany and the offshore island Mulmurrŋa. This is a painting of Makarratha or dispute resolution ceremony following conflict. In an ancient conflict between the Crocodile ancestral being, Bäru (in this case representing his offspring the Gumatj from Biranybirany who in modern times use the surname Yunupiŋu) and Gawanalkmirri the ancestral Stingray (who symbolises the Yarrwiḏi Gumatj who now use the surname Munuŋgurritj). These beings clashed over occupancy of Mulmurruŋa island when Baru moved from Biranybirany. This conflict was resolved by the ritual spearing in the thigh of the wrongdoer Bäru. This forged the two clans forever into their Märi-Gutharra (grandmother-grandchild) relationship. There is an echo in this image of crocodile being speared by stingray in different places and between different clans of Yirritja. It appears in the paintings of the sea off Yarrinya to illustrate the same relationship between Munyuku and Maḏarrpa. The ceremony sealed a state of ecstatic peace. This is equated with the glassy millpond mirror-like surface of the sea in the late dry season ‘build-up’ of thunderclouds. Broken only by Dhinimbu -the mackerel- jumping with joy. The Gumatj diamond design holds levels of identity from fire ,honey, saltwater and the bodies of the Gumatj people themselves.

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


Wanapati is the son of deceased artist Miniyawany Yunupiŋu. Miniyawany was a senior artist and ceremonial leader within the Gumatj clan at Biranybirany. Subsequently, Wanapati has inherited rich ceremonial instruction from his father and was trained while living between the outstation communities of Wandawuy (his mother's clan land) and Biranybirany. Following his father's death in 2008, he began to paint his clan design on bark, yidaki, and larrakitj.

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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