Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations

For Yolŋu people, knowledge is shared and demonstrated through their art. Paintings and sculptures embody their spiritual, philosophical and legal foundations.

In eastern Arnhem Land, Yolŋu people have been making art for millennia. Their art traces djalkiri (ancestral footsteps) and expresses Yolŋu Rom (Law). 

Painting on bark

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.

“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.”
Djambawa Marawili AM*
Video still by Patrina Munuŋgurr

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

Djalkiri book


Djalkiri: Yolŋu art, collaborations and collections

Edited by Rebecca J. Conway

Djalkiri are “footprints" – ancestral imprints on the landscape that provide the Yolŋu people of eastern Arnhem Land with their philosophical foundations. 

This book describes how Yolŋu artists and communities keep these foundations strong, and how they have worked with museums to develop a collaborative, community-led approach to the collection and display of their artwork. It includes contributions from Yolŋu elders and artists as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous historians and curators. Together they explore how the relationship between communities and museums has changed over time.

Price: $49.95
320 pages, soft cover
Publisher: Sydney University Press 

Available now Chau Chak Wing Museum shop and online

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. JW Power Collection, University of Sydney, PW1984.86

Norman Mangawila, 1933-1991, Ḏaygurrgurr Gupapuyŋu clan, Yirritja moiety, Ŋerrk sulphur-crested white cockatoo c. 1984, JW Power Collection, PW1984.88

Patrina Munuŋgurr, born 1989, Djapu clan, Dhuwa moiety. Dhunupa’kum nhuna waṉḏa (Straighten your mind) 2018, 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.

Free entry, open 7 days

Weekdays 10am – 5pm
Weekends 12pm – 4pm

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