Gulumbu Yunupingu

<strong>Gulumbu Yunupingu</strong><br/> b.c.1943, Gunyungarra, Northeast Arnhem Land, NT ─ d.2012, Gove, NT<br/> Yolngu; Yirritja Moiety <br/>Biranybirany Homeland <br/>Gumatj/Rrakpala Clans<br/><br/><i>Mangatharra Miny'tji</i> 2008<br/>Multiplate softground etching, edn 19/30<br/>Collaborators: Basil Hall & Merran Sierakowski<br/>Editioned at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Print Space, Yirrkala, 2009<br/>49 x 24.5cm [image]; 61 x 41cm [paper]<br/>CDU Art Collection – CDU1640<br/>Acquired by purchase through the CDU Foundation, 2009<br/>Image © the artist’s estate & courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre, Yirrkala, NTArtist, elder, teacher, traditional healer and luminary of Northeast Arnhem Land, the late Gulumbu Yunupingu was sister to Yolngu leaders Galarrwuy and the late Dr Yunupingu, and daughter of senior Gumatj lawman and statesman Munggurrawuy Yunupingu. During her lifetime, Gulumbu worked in various media including weaving, painting barks and yidaki, collecting shells to make adornments and string for armbands and headbands. In 2001, she extended her expertise to screenprinting, exhibiting her graphic work nationally and internationally. 

In 2008, Gulumbu 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.

Gulumbu detailed the subject matter of her etching Mangatharra Miny'tji 2008 and its connection to her father Munggurraway:

This story is about when the first settlers [the Macassans] came to Arnhem Land. The blue coloured patterns are the clothes or belongings of the people from the boats. As you can see, all the boats in this print, that’s how many there were. The main figure at the bottom was the boss (or Captain). Before anchoring their ships, they watched the land through binoculars to see if there were any people. I was told this story by my father. I am not sure where these people first landed, there are many stories. I was excited to see my father’s drawing so different. It made me proud and happy.

Gulumbu’s work recalls the once seasonal presence of Macassans on the northeastern coast of Arnhem Land, the visitors engaged in the curing of trepang. In both planar and frontal views, an encampment of human figures is unified within a partitioned composition resembling a floating vessel in cross-section, their implements and sailing vessels lodged within the landscape’s jagged contours and inlets. 

Gulumbu Yunupingu’s work is represented in major museums and galleries nationally and internationally. She was overall winner of the Telstra-National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2004 and the same year, was commissioned to participate in the Musée du quai Branly project in Paris. In 2006, she was named Deadly Visual Artist of the Year and was a finalist in the Tallis Foundation National Works on Paper.  In 2007, she was invited to exhibit in the National Gallery of Australia’s Culture Warriors – National Indigenous Art Triennial. She worked closely with her brother Galarrwuy at Garma Festivals, running traditional healing workshops at her centre in Northeast Arnhem Land, educating non-Indigenous people about Yolngu life and culture.

Work by Gulumbu’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, exhibited 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 49M, 1998 & Artist’s CV
Nomad Art, After Berndt, 1947-2008: Crayon to Etching, Galuku Gallery information sheet, Darwin, 1998

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection & Art Gallery
4 August 2014

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