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Showcasing important works by senior and emerging artists from Yirrkala

[by Charmaine Ingram]


Miwatj Yolŋu – Sunrise People install view, Bundanon, 2023. Photo: Zan Wimberley 



Vitality and Change in Warlpiri Songs [by Naomi van Groll] Warlpiri songs hold together the ceremonies that structure and bind social relationships, and encode detailed information about Warlpiri country, cosmology and kinship.


Surviving Aboriginal workers and relatives win $180m settlement from WA government for stolen wages [Hannah Murphy, Alys Mrashall and Sam Tomlin, ABC] The WA government will pay nearly $200 million to settle a class action brought on behalf of thousands of Aboriginal Australians who had their wages withheld while subject to onerous legislation.


Calls for better education after sacred Aboriginal cultural sites vandalised on NSW Central Coast [Keira Proust, ABC] Ancient Aboriginal rock carvings on the New South Wales Central Coast have been vandalised in recent months, prompting calls for better education about the significance of such places across Australia.

Bundanon has unveiled its new exhibition season, Miwatj Yolŋu - Sunrise People, presenting important works by 13 senior and emerging Yolŋu artists from the Yirrkala Community in East Arnhem Land, open to the public in Bundanon’s award-winning Art Museum until 11 February 2024.


During January 2024, the exhibition will be a key regional destination for Sydney Festival, attracting audiences from the city and across the state to experience the exhibition and public programs throughout the Festival season. 


Curated in collaboration with Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Art Centre and The Mulka Project, Miwatj Yolŋu – Sunrise People explores storytelling, ecology and materiality in the works of Yolŋu artists. Like Bundanon’s location in the Shoalhaven, Yirrkala is a place where fresh and saltwater meet, and its lands and waterways inform diverse creative practices. This new exhibition brings to light the centrality of weather patterns and ecological systems within Yolŋu culture, and tells interwoven stories of land, water, and sky. 


Exhibiting artists include Ms N Marawili, Dhambit Munuŋgurr, Gaypalani Waṉambi, Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda, Muluymuluy Wirrpanda, Djirrirra Wunuŋmurra, Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu, Nyapanyapa Yunupiŋu, Wanapati Yunupiŋu, and artists from The Mulka Project including, Ruby Djikarra Alderton, Ishmael Marika, Patrina Munuŋgurr and Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu.


Miwatj Yolŋu translates to ‘sunrise people' in Yolŋu Matha (Yolŋu tongue). Geographically, Miwatj refers to the furthest north-eastern part of Arnhem Land that receives the morning sun, as it rises in the east. Yolŋu artists enact cultural traditions through the expression of both sacred and secular narratives. The use of materials from local lands is an important part of this practice, encompassing natural ochres, ṉuwayak (bark painting) and larrakitj (memorial poles).


The exhibition features works by Yolŋu artist Ms N Marawili, regarded as one of the most important Australian painters of her generation, who recently passed in October 2023. 


Known for her signature magenta hue salvaged from discarded printer cartridges, Ms N Marawili is one of the many artists in this exhibition that have pioneered the use of reclaimed materials in artmaking, in keeping with the Yolŋu dictum ‘if you paint the land, use the land’. This process is also seen through the metal works of Gaypalani Wanambi, one of the younger Yolŋu women, and Wanapati Yunupiŋu who works with discarded signage and scrap metals from nearby bauxite mining sites.


The prolific artist Dhambit Munuŋgurr presents paintings in her iconic vivid palette of cobalt blue capturing secular narratives with a deep understanding of Yolŋu lore, while Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu, one of the celebrated ‘seven sisters’ group of Yolngu women artists, presents a recent body of work depicting the artist’s interpretation of the sacred Yolŋu story relating to the constellation known as the Seven Sisters or Pleiades.


A remarkable work by Nyapanyapa Yunupiŋu uses a computer algorithm to seamlessly meld 120 white paint pen on acetate drawings into an infinite and layered painting of light, demonstrating a conceptual leap from the static medium of painting.


There are five video works presented throughout the exhibition created by Ruby Djikarra Alderton, Ishmael Marika, Patrina Munuŋgurr and Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu. These artists are part of The Mulka Project and their works experiment with contemporary animation, film and performance, with the goal of preserving Yolŋu cultural knowledge. 


Rachel Kent, CEO said: “Yirrkala is a place close to my heart, one of the most exciting and dynamic artistic communities in Australia and the wider world. I’ve had the immense privilege of working with artists in this community over time, some of whom are no longer with us, and celebrated in this exhibition. These artists are truly world-class; and their innovative practice encompasses artistic media from bark painting and larrakitj through to repurposed dance boards, metal road signs from local mining industry, and screen-based media”.


The exhibition season includes a curated public program of talks, workshops and performances, giving audiences the chance to engage with First Nations artists and leaders in the cultural sector. The program includes:


  • Jeanine Leane Poetry Reading & Workshop | Sunday 3 December 2023: A reading of new poems in the Art Museum from Bundanon artist in residence alumnus, & acclaimed Wiradjuri author Jeanine Leane; followed by a participatory workshop that draws inspiration from artworks on display.


  • Nici Cumpston Public Talk | Sunday 3 December 2023: Artistic Director of Tarnanthi and Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia Nici Cumpston shares her knowledge of artistic practices from East Arnhem Land, including the work of Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu who features in Miwatj Yolŋu and Tarnanthi.


  • Myles Russell-Cook Public Talk | Saturday 13 January 2024: Myles Russell-Cook, Senior Curator of Australian and First Nations Art, at the National Gallery of Victoria, speaks about innovation in the practice of women artists from East Arnhem Land, including Dhambit Munuŋgurr.


  • Charmaine Papertalk Green Poetry Reading | Saturday 13 January 2024: Aboriginal poet, artist and acclaimed author, Charmaine Papertalk Green presents a reading of recent work developed in residence at Bundanon.


  • Song Spirals Dance Performance | Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 January 2024: This is a new dance work in development by Rosealee Pearson that choreographically explores the crying of songlines (milkarri), referred to as song spirals in North East Arnhem Land. Offering an experience of the ancient songs and dances (buŋgul) that act as a guide for Yolŋu people. This work is an interpretation of the groundbreaking book by the Gay’wu Women’s Group.


For more information on the exhibition and the full program visit:

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