A wide shot of the Djalkiri exhibition

From missions to makarraṯa

23 February 2021
Peace making through museum collections
The Yolŋu process of makarraṯa, promoting shared understanding to find a unified path forward, has underpinned a flagship exhibition, and a related book, at the University's new Chau Chak Wing Museum.

The Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations exhibition and the book Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections celebrate the University’s extensive Yolŋu collections  from eastern Arnhem Land and the relationships that built and sustain them.

Yolŋu have been making art for millennia. “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,” writes Yolŋu leader Djambawa Marawili, AM in a foreword to the book.“ 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.”

Representing more than 20 Yolŋu clans and 100 artists, Gululu dhuwala djalkiri features 350 artworks. The exhibition is the first at the museum’s largest exhibition space, the 420 square metre Ian Potter Gallery. It was created in consultation with three Yolŋu art centres: Milingimbi Art and Culture (Yurrwi Island), Bula’bula Arts(Ramingining) and Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre (Yirrkala). Over three years Yolŋu Elders and artists advised and worked with University curators to determine how their artwork, knowledge and law would be shared with museum audiences.

“In 2018 we hosted two Elders from each of the communities to tell us how they would organise the exhibition from a Yolŋu perspective,” said co-curator Matt Poll. “Consultation continued via phone and email right up to the final installation.”

Yälpi Yunupiŋu from Yirrkala was among those who travelled to Sydney in 2018 to be part of the early exhibition development. He found artworks by his father and was taken by the overall scale of the collections.

“It is good for public showing and for the kids,” he said. “It’s good to be kept for our generation, and for the next generation to come and learn more about it, and to hear what we are saying about it, the stories of these paintings.”

On display are works from Milingimbi and Yirrkala collected by anthropologists Lloyd Warner (1920s) and Ronald and Catherine Berndt (1940s). A large collection of artworks was acquired in Milingimbi and Ramingining for the University’s JW Power art collection through Djon Mundine, OAM, a Bandjalung curator. Mundine has mentored University curators in their work with these collections and will be a special guest at the book launch. An award-winning contemporary multimedia work from Yirrkala and a series of memorial poles from a 2016 Makarraṯa event at Milingimbi were new acquisitions for the show. 

Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections (SUP 2021), is a multi-authored, richly illustrated book featuring diverse contributions from Indigenous and non-indigenous staff of the Yolŋu Art Centres, Elders and artists, and historians and curators. It explores different understandings of the collections, their histories and meanings, and reflects on the changing relationships between Yolŋu communities and museums over time.

The Ian Potter Gallery was named after the Ian Potter Foundation, which donated $5 million towards construction of the museum. The gallery will host two exhibitions a year.

“The Foundation is delighted to see the gallery open with this unique exhibition of Indigenous artworks ranging from the 20th century to more current digital works,” said foundation Chairman Charles Goode AC. “Curated in consultation with the Yolŋu community, it is bound to foster greater engagement and appreciation of Indigenous culture by the wider community.”

Exhibition details:

When: 18 November–29 August 2021

Where: Potter Gallery, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University Place, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Sydney

Cost: Free.

URL: www.sydney.edu.au/museum

Phone: +61 2 9351 2812

Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm; Thursday nights until 9pm; Sat-Sun, 12-4pm.

Email: ccwm.info@sydney.edu.au

Book available from Sydney University Press and the museum shop.

Related articles