In eastern Arnhem Land, Yolŋu people have been making art for millennia. Their art traces djalkiri (ancestral footsteps) and expresses Yolŋu Rom (Law).
“The patterns and designs were laid down on the country and in the minds of Yolŋu by the ancestral beings at the time of creation. They have been passed on through the generations from our great grandparents, to our grandparents, to our parents, to us. They are the reality of this country. They tell us all who we are.”
The 350 works in Gululu dhuwala djalkiri represent generations of Yolŋu artists and include pieces dating back to the period following the establishment of Methodist missions in the Yolŋu territories of Milingimbi and Yirrkala, the late 1920s and 1940s. Anthropologists from the University of Sydney acquired artworks and objects, and took photographs in these communities, as an integral part of their research. The exhibition also features a large number of artworks from the JW Power collection, acquired in the 1980s through Djon Mundine, a Bandjalung curator and then Art Advisor for the Ramingining community.
Yolŋu people are two groups of people, we are Dhuwa people and we are Yirritja people…This guides ceremony, how to perform our manikay (ceremonial songs), the artwork that goes with it and what we do in everyday life … the idea of identity that the ancestors have given to Yolŋu people and the places, the land, the languages of people and animals.
A stunning new multimedia work by Patrina Munuŋgurr, from Yirrkala, and a series of painted hollow-log memorial poles acquired from the 2016 Milingimbi Makarraṯa (a peace-making event between museums and local Yolŋu communities) demonstrates the continuity of Yolŋu artistic practice.
The exhibition was developed in consultation with three Yolŋu art centres representing the regions where the works were created. Elders from the Milingimbi, Yirrkala and the Ramingining communities were instrumental, working with museum curators to design the layout, grouping and interpretation of the works.
The striking paintings and sculptures in Gululu dhuwala djalkiri represent more than 20 Yolŋu clan groups and 100 artists.
Gululu / welcome this; here is
Dhuwala / footsteps; spiritual foundation
Djalkiri / ancestral imprint on the landscape
The exhibition runs until August 2021.
Images from top:
David Daymirriŋu Malangi, 1927-1999, Manharrŋu clan, Dhuwa moiety, worked Milingimbi. Biw’yunnaraw warrakan ŋaṯili dawurr, black cockatoo feather fan c. 1984, feathers, beeswax and wood, 49.0 x 34.5 x 1.5 cm, collected by D Mundine 1980s, purchased JW Power bequest 1984-85. JW Power Collection, University of Sydney, managed by Museum of Contemporary Art, Power collection, PW1984.86
Norman Mangawila, 1933-1991, Ḏaygurrgurr Gupapuyŋu clan, Yirritja moiety, Ŋerrk sulphur-crested white cockatoo c. 1984, ochre and synthetic polymer on bark, 56.2 x 25.7 cm, collected by D Mundine 1980s, purchased JW Power bequest 1984-85, JW Power Collection, University of Sydney, managed by Museum of Contemporary Art, Power collection, PW1984.88
Patrina Munuŋgurr, born 1989, Djapu clan, Dhuwa moiety. Dhunupa’kum nhuna waṉḏa (Straighten your mind) 2018, single-channel video with sound, duration: 1:33 mins, Buku Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Alan Richard Renshaw bequest 2019, University Art Collection UA2019.2
*Djambawa Marawili AM is the Yolŋu Maḏarrpa clan leader from Bäniyala Homeland, Blue Mud Bay, North East Arnhem Land. He is the Chairman of Arnhem Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA) Aboriginal Corporation, the Indigenous-lead peak body for Aboriginal artists and art centres across Northern Australia. English is Mr Marawili’s seventh language.