The artists of Northeast Arnhem Land are famous for the quality of their fine bark paintings. In my search to find images on the Yirrkala.com website I kept being drawn to the hauntingly beautiful work of Gulumbu Yunupingu.
Her painting is actually atypical in that the compositions lack any figurative element and I think it is perhaps in this abstract quality, where the mind is untethered, where the resonance lies for me. Subtle shifting undulations encourage the eye to wander silently over the whole surface, evoking feelings of memory… of an otherness.
In all the articles and statements I have read about Gulumbu Yunupingu, she always talks of her father’s influence on her thinking and vision; of how he used to sing to her just after dusk as they looked up at the night sky together, and how he used to lead her young mind through the constellations and ancestral stories.
I learn that in the construction of her paintings Gulumbu Yunupingu continues to think about these profound spiritual connections “… the universe, all around, about every tribe, every colour. In every corner of the world people can look up and see the stars…” and how the stars are a link to all people everywhere.
I imagine to experience these exquisite works fist hand would be a deep, contemplative experience. And in thinking about them I am again becoming lost in notions of time, scale, distance, our place in the world; of things being the same and all being different…
Ganyu is the Yolngu word for stars.
The works left to right are:
1. Garak (the universe) 2008, natural ochres on bark, 223 x 67 cm
2. Ganyu (stars) 2009, natural ochres on bark, 112.5 x 67 cm
3. Ganyu (stars) 2009, natural ochres on bark, 96 x 53 cm
The Alcaston Gallery in Victoria (from where these images came) specializes in Contemporary Aboriginal Art. They have shown Gulumbu Yunupingu’s work on a number of occasions and very recently hosted a highly successful major solo exhibition. The gallery holds a stock of paintings on both bark and larrakiti (memorial poles).