National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards dominated by Yolngu artists


Posted

August 10, 2018 21:04:06

A Yolngu artwork on aluminium depicting fish traps and the flow of water to the sea in the Arnhem Land wet season has won this year’s overall prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

Key points:

  • Yolngu woman Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr from Yirrkala won this year’s Multimedia Award
  • Alice Springs and Western Arrernte woman Kathy Inkamala won the Works on Paper Award
  • Peter Mungkuri from Indulkana in South Australia was the only winner outside of the Northern Territory

Gunybi Ganambarr’s etchings in the work Buyku, which means fish trap, represent several grandfathers and clan groups coming together for ceremony.

Mr Ganambarr said he was responsible for his mother’s stories from the Gangan homeland where he lives, a three-hour drive from the north east Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala.

“We can teach you and you can teach us,” he said.

“We’re allowed to do this because I’m the manager of this for my mother’s clan and I’m operating the law side and for the song, for the dancing.”

This special role under Yolngu law is called “djungaya”.

Mr Ganambarr said he chose to use a three-by-three metre aluminium board instead of bark because this would not damage trees, but still represents the land.

“When we peel the bark out from the whole tree, some parts are gone or dead. That’s why I picked a new style of material, so they can stay forever,” he said.

“The metal, it’s in the land.”

This year five of the seven winning works are from Yolngu artists, including four from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, an Aboriginal arts centre in Yirrkala.

The judges chose 66 finalists from more than 300 entries across the country.

“For me, the strength of the Yolngu work speaks to happy artists who are being well supported and artists who are being encouraged to be adventurous,” Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, one of the award’s judges, said.

“The way that Gunybi takes a lineage of thousands of years of Yolngu tradition and mark marking and makes it his own and pushes those boundaries.

“I think all of us were really just captivated by the movement in the work, by the story of the clan groups coming together.”

New methods embraced

The use of fish and water as metaphors also featured in Yolngu artist Wukun Wanabi’s work Destiny, which won the 3D Award.

“The fish is called mullet and it’s in my country, it travels between river to river, creek to creek, ocean to ocean, looking for their destiny,” Wanabi said.

“It’s just like you and I when we look on the internet [for our ancestors], we look for our destiny as well, where our great, great, great grandmother and great grandad, where they’re from.

“Fish is exactly like you and I.”

The four Yolngu artists wanted to make a strong statement about using new methods, beyond the bark and ochre used in traditional works.

“We’re also giving the young guns an opportunity to do this, to show this in the world that we can do the art in a different method,” Wanabi said.

Yolngu man Matthew Dhamuliya Gurruwiwi from the island community of Warruwi won the Emerging Artist Award for Banumbirr or morning star poles, which are used in Galpu clan ceremonies.

The award replaces last year’s youth category.

“In recognition that a lot of artists actually start creating work later in life, and so if somebody’s picking up a paint brush at age 80, we’d like to still be able to acknowledge that it’s something new for them,” Museum and Gallery NT director Marcus Schutenko said.

‘It shows who we are’

Yolngu woman Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr from Yirrkala won this year’s Multimedia Award for a film about painting herself with clay while Djapu clan members sing the associated songline, the “cloud song”.

Napuwarri Marawili from the Yilpara homeland in north east Arnhem Land won the Bark Painting Award for his work about an ancestral journey and the hunt for dugong.

Beyond Arnhem Land, Alice Springs and Western Arrernte woman Kathy Inkamala won the Works on Paper Award for her ink and gouache painting in the Hermannsburg school watercolour style, depicting Mount Gillen.

“It looks beautiful early in the morning,” she said.

“You can bring your country, but in a landscape.

“It shows who we are, where we’re coming from.”

Peter Mungkuri from Indulkana in South Australia was the only winner outside of the Northern Territory, taking home the General Painting Award for his ink and paint on linen work, Ngura.

“I would say it’s the most spectacular collection of art that we’ve ever had in this exhibition,” Mr Schutenko said.

Wanabi offered some advice for absorbing the many layers present in this year’s works.

“It’s a time for all the white fellas to stop, breathe and relax,” he said.

“In the balanda [non-Indigenous] world you don’t do that, you always crash into the wall and bounce back, and go this way and bounce back, you move on.”

Topics:

community-and-society,

indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander,

indigenous-culture,

arts-and-entertainment,

visual-art,

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