Barrupu Yunupingu

<strong>Barrupu Yunupingu</strong><br/>b.c 1948, Yirrkala, Northeast Arnhem Land, NT - d. 2012, Birritjimi (Wallaby Beach), NT<br/>Yolngu; Yirritja Moiety<br/>Biranybirany Homeland<br/>Gumatj clan<br/><br/><i>Yothu Yindi</i> 2008<br/>Etching on Hahnemühle paper, edn 25/30<br/>Collaborators: Basil Hall & Merran Sierakowski <br/>Editioned at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Print Space, Yirrkala, 2009 <br/>24.5 x 49cm [image]; 40.5 x 61.5 [paper] <br/>CDU Art Collection – CDU1639<br/>Acquired by purchase through the CDU Foundation, 2009 <br/>Image © the artist’s estate & courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre, Yirrkala, NT

Sister of Galarrwuy and the late Dr Yunupingu, senior Yolngu artist, the late Barrapu Yunupingu was the daughter of esteemed Gumatj lawman and statesman Munggurrawuy Yunupingu. Her mother was Bunay Wanambi, who worked for the Yirrkala mission. Before her passing, Barrupu collaborated closely with her elder sister Nyapanyapa, an equally talented painter, carver and printmaker, whose rise to prominence gave Barrupu the impetus to make her own way forward as an independent artist. Her other siblings, the late Gulumbu and Gaymala (Nancy) Yunupingu, were also esteemed artists.

Barrupu grew up in Yirrkala and attended the mission school. She trained and worked as a nurse during the 1960s and 70s at the Yirrkala clinic/hospital until its closure in 1975. The clinic/hospital building eventually became Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre where Barrupu would return daily – only this time, to make art. She was bestowed the name ‘Fire Lady’ by the art centre staff, for her creative development of the Gumatj clan’s ancestral fire (gurtha) designs or miny’tji, reminiscent of early Yolngu bark paintings of the 1940s by her father and his brothers.

The fire motif is central to Gumatj people, their language (Dhuwalandja) described as a ‘tongue of flame’ that cuts through all artifice, incinerating all dishonesty and leaving only the bones of truth. Barrupu’s ribbons of fire are said to emulate both its form and the saltwater flow of her country: from her earliest renditions in ochres on bark in 2009, with their bold yellow and red flaming verticals, to her later charcoal black ‘back burn’ paintings, and her final works, heavily over-painted in white ochre symbolising ash. As a ceremonial Gumatj woman, Barrupu enlisted fire as her identity: alive and changing, with the power to illuminate and purify.

In 2008, Barrupu participated in the Berndt Etching project, delivered by Basil Hall Editions in collaboration with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Print Space. The project honoured a remarkable collection of crayon drawings – 365 works by 27 Yolngu artists and men of high degree – commissioned by anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt in the course of their research at Yirrkala in 1947. Yolngu artists had never used paper or crayons before. Whilst Ronald Berndt initially regarded the drawings as ‘extensions of his field notebooks’, and a necessary safeguard against the loss of a large collection of bark paintings also assembled at the time, they became for him ‘the most important things I have ever collected, anywhere in Australia … the treasure of our collection.’

In January 2008, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre staff members Araluen Maymuru and Dindirrk Munungggur travelled to Perth to obtain access to the crayon drawings, held at the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia. A selection of 100 drawings was reproduced to scale by The Mulka Project – the art centre’s philanthropically funded digital media archive and studio – and returned to the community. In August 2008, the reproductions were displayed at the Gapan Gallery at the Garma Festival, along with works from the Berndt Etching Project. The etchings were also exhibited at the Galuku Gallery in the Darwin Botanic Gardens during the Darwin Festival that month, in an exhibition entitled After Berndt, 1947-2008: Crayon to Etching, mounted by Nomad Art.

By way of tribute to the original crayon drawings, master printers from Basil Hall Editions, in collaboration with printmakers from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Print Space, developed a new technique for the Berndt Etching project that produced resinous textures and velvet-like lines in the artists’ etched compositions. The zinc etching plates were coated in wax and a layer of paper applied to the surface. Artist-printmakers then sketched their compositions on the paper-coated matrix with pencils. Their drawings were etched onto the plate after immersion in an acid bath, each colour requiring a separate matrix.

Barrupu explained the subject of her etching Yothu Yindi 2008 and its connection to her father Munggurraway:

In this design, the red represents gurtha (fire), the blue (mother) and the yellow (child).  Yothu Yindi (mother and child).
The Berndt collection of crayon drawings were manymak (good) to see. The children like me could see my father’s (Mungurrawuy Yunupingu) drawings in crayon. I only ever saw him do work on bark.
This was the first time he used crayon so I copied from his design to make my own one.

Barrupu Yunupingu exhibited principally as a printmaker between 1998 and 2008, holding her debut bark painting exhibitions at Garma and Raft Artspace in 2009.  Her work was pre-selected for the Telstra – 26th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award the same year. She held her first solo exhibition in Alice Springs at Raft Artspace in 2010, then in Melbourne at Alcaston Gallery in early 2012, shortly before her untimely death.  Barrupu’s work is represented in major public Australian and international galleries and museums, and in private and corporate collections.

Work by Barrupu’s father Munggurrawuy is included in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ touring exhibition, Yirrkala Drawings, developed in partnership with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka and the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia, showing at the CDU Art Gallery between 7 August and 3 October 2014. The exhibition features 81 works by 15 artists and is the first time that a major survey dedicated to the crayon drawings has been mounted and toured. It is also the first time that such a comprehensive selection of the works has returned to the Northern Territory since their creation in 1947.

For further information, see:  

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Print Space, Certificate 48W, 1998 & Artist’s CV

Nomad Art, After Berndt, 1947-2008: Crayon to Etching, Galuku Gallery information sheet, Darwin, 1998

Helen Carroll (with Bill Henson, John Kinsella & Richard Mills), Luminous World: contemporary art from the Wesfarmers Collection, Wesfarmers Ltd, Perth, 2012, exhibition catalogue – entry on Barrupu Yunupingu

Will Stubbs, ‘Barrupu Yunupingu – Fire Lady’, essay, May 2013

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection & Art Gallery
2 September 2014

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