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Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark

Yimula Munuŋgurr, Djapu Design, 109x32cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Yimula Munuŋgurr
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Waṉḏaway / Buku-ḏäl
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 4886-21
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H109 W32 D1 (irregular)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability
  • Orientation - Wired to hang as displayed but can be displayed horizontally on metal frame

The cross-hatching grid pattern is the sacred design for the freshwaters of the Djapu clan at their homeland Wandawuy now an outstation about 150 kilometres south of Yirrkala and inland from Blue Mud Bay.

This Djapu clan outstation (and spiritual residence for Ancestral Beings Mäna the Shark and Bol’ŋu the Thunderman) is surrounded by permanent freshwater. Rains inspired by the actions of Bol’ŋu feed the rivers and fill the billabongs. Caƞish and mussels, freshwater crayfish and others feed the Yolŋu and wildlife. The waters are home for the shark Mäna.

The grid refers to the landscape of Wandawuy - a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks. Its structure also having a reference at one level to woven fish traps (that are depicted in the bottom left). Ancestral Hunters who set a trap here
to snare the Shark but to no avail. These Yolŋu are called Bärngbarng and Monu'a who came to cut the trees named Gu'uwu, Gathurrmakarr, Nyenyi, Rulwirrika and Gananyarra - all Dhuwa trees. They used straight young trees. And cut them with their
axes called Gayma'arri, Bitjutju.

Areas of the river are staked by the Yolŋu and branches interwoven through them. Then the water is polluted by a particular pulped bark that anaesthetises the Gaṉŋal (caƞish) that hobble to the surface. With nets constructed similarly to the beak of Galumay the Pelican, the Yolŋu wade through the waters scooping up the fish. It has been fished since Ancestral times. Gaṉŋal the caƞish, totem for the Djapu is ceremonially sung as is Galumay the pelican. Both these species frequent the waters of Waṉḏawuy.

Mäna the Ancestral Shark in its epic travels comes through this way. These ancestors try to trap Mäna in the freshwater by means of these traps in the waterways. They fail. The powers and physical strength of the Shark overcome the efforts of mere mortals. Mäna’s ire and thrashing tail smash the trap and muddy the water. They witness however the strength of Mäna and sing his actions, the thrashing of his tail for one, the muddying or contamination of the water.

The black lines having reference to the trap, the coloured verticals referring to different states of the freshwater - the source of Djapu soul. At ceremony appropriate participants for mortuary rites enter the shelter (woven together like the unsuccessful trap) where the deceased has been lying in state. Sacred spears tipped with stingray barbs, manifestations of Mäna’s teeth, stand up alongside the shelter.

Yimula's unique portrayal of Mäna crashing through the fish traps set by the Djapu clan is shown in the vast blackened sections of her work. Allowing the viewer to experience the power of the shark as it breaks through the land. The sacred song cycles of Mäna in the water at Wandawuy are intoned with music from the Yidaki (didjeridu) and Bilma (clapsticks). At the prescribed time at the conclusion of ceremony the dancers crash through the deceased’s shelter imitating the actions of Mäna at the trap. This action has reference to the release of the deceased’s soul, back to the sacred waters of Wandawuy to be reunited with its ancestors awaiting rebirth.

Recent surveys by Anglo scientists in Top End rivers in Kakadu have revealed the existence of a species of shark whose life cycle takes place entirely in the freshwater. A genus otherwise unknown to Western thought in Australia but present in PNG now known in English as Speartooth. Wandawuy literally means place of the Sharks head wherein the larger context of the song cycles of Mäna’s journey his head came to rest after being butchered and distributed through the land.

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.

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


Father is Wurrayarra, a son of Woŋgu. This young woman has worked as an artist for several years and is developing a precise hand on paintings of her own Djapu clan as well as her mother’s Maḏarrpa clan. Her mother is Burrtjalk. This is a summary of her mother's self-penned biography; "Born at Gurka’wuy and moved to live at Bäniyala with my mother (Djultjul) and father (Munduku`). When I was a little girl, when my father died we moved to Roper River and stayed for a long time, until I finished school. Then I went to Numbulwar and married Dhäkiyarr son of the great warrior Woŋgu Mununggurr, We lived at Numbulwar for many years, then moved to Yirrkala. I worked sewing girri (clothes) shorts, shirts, for school uniform for the (djamarrkuḻi) children. Then we moved to Garrthalala and my husband and I worked together painting bark and carving wood. Then we moved to my Mäḻu’s wäŋa (fathers country ) Bäniyala and worked at making an airstrip for our Homeland. Then we moved to my husbands wäŋa-(place) Waṉdawuy for good. I have 3 boys and 5 girls and lots of grandchildren." Yimula is a mother herself now and generally lives at Gunyuŋara (Ski Beach) where she is a full time artist.

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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