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‘It keeps me alive’: the politically potent bark paintings of Dhambit Munuŋgurr | Indigenous art

The prolific Yolŋu artist Dhambit Munuŋgurr has been ready a very long time to get Julia Gillard’s consideration.

On 10 July 2013 Australia’s first feminine prime minister was scheduled to go to the north-east Arnhem Land neighborhood of Yirrkala to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the bark petitions, which sparked the Indigenous land rights motion. Munuŋgurr had ready a bark portray in Gillard’s honour, hoping to current it to her. However a fortnight earlier than the go to Gillard was toppled in a Labor management spill and the victor, Kevin Rudd, made the journey to Yirrkala as an alternative. Munuŋgurr is simply too well mannered to publicly take sides however, suffice to say, the portray stays in her bed room on Gunyaŋara, the tiny island in the Arafura Sea some 25 minutes’ journey away.

Dhambit Mununggurr painting at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, north-east Arnhem Land
Dhambit Mununggurr painting at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, north-east Arnhem Land

Now, virtually a decade on, the former feminine prime minister has once more impressed the 53-year-old artist – this time as the topic of a large-scale work, Order, which depicts Gillard in parliament throughout her notorious 2012 misogyny speech. Talking over Zoom from her wheelchair at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, the place she will be discovered portray giant bark canvases and larrakitj (hole log poles) three days per week, Munuŋgurr explains her admiration for Gillard fairly merely: “She is a girl, like me.” Painted on stringybark in Munuŋgurr’s signature blue palette, Order options Gillard towering over pale, limp-faced politicians as Yolŋu dancers storm the parliament, holding arched spears aloft in illustration of the cloud mass of the moist season. They’re dancing the songline of “bol’ŋu” or “thunderman”, Munuŋgurr explains – an embodiment of the moist season.

Dhambit Munuŋgurr Order 2021 synthetic polymer paint on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.) 201.0 × 100.0 cm Purchased with funds donated by Janet Whiting AM and Phil Lukies, 2021

Will Stubbs, the longtime coordinator at Buku who’s facilitating and translating my dialog with Munuŋgurr, says the Yolŋu in the portray are “supporting and dancing their id and shepherding [Gillard] in – they’re her bodyguards”.

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Order will probably be hung as half of Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala, a significant new Melbourne exhibition that showcases the Nationwide Gallery of Victoria’s assortment of stringybark paintings and larrakitj by feminine Yolŋu artists who work at Buku. Even when Gillard doesn’t see it, the hundreds of gallery-goers who’re anticipated to cross by way of Victoria’s premier art establishment over its four-month run actually will.

2021 has been a giant 12 months for Munuŋgurr, who started portray at 13 however solely got here to nationwide prominence a 12 months in the past together with her 2020 NGV Triennial presentation “Can all of us have a cheerful life”. This 12 months she was a finalist in the Wynne prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales; and in August gained the bark portray award at the Nationwide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards for Bees at Gäṉgän, a piece which references her ancestral tales. (Her artist mother and father Mutitjpuy Munuŋgurr and Gulumbu Yunupingu each gained the prime prize at the NATSIAAs throughout their lifetimes.) In October, Munuŋgurr staged a sold-out solo exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney that includes 24 of her works, together with a diptych titled Welcoming the Refugees / Scott Morrison and the Treasurer – depicting Yolŋu pushing the two strongest males in Australia out to sea. Her costliest work bought for $60,000; though she solely receives a portion of that quantity, it’s a good-looking sum for an artist who paints compulsively however provides most of her work away. “There’s not many individuals in north-east Arnhem Land who haven’t acquired a private Dhambit portray,” Stubbs says.

Dhambit Munuŋgurr and her husband Tony Gintz at the 2020 NGV Triennial presentation ‘Can we all have a happy life’.

  • Prime: Dhambit Munuŋgurr and her husband Tony Gintz at the 2020 NGV Triennial. {Photograph} by Eugene Hyland.
    Backside left: Welcoming the Refugees / Scott Morrison and the Treasurer (2021). Picture courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, Sydney.
    Backside proper: Bees at Gäṉgän (2021), which gained the bark portray award at the Nationwide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Picture courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Welcoming the Refugees / Scott Morrison and the Treasurer (2021). Courtesy of Dhambit Munuŋgurr and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Bees at Gäṉgän, which won the bark painting award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Image courtesy Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Munuŋgurr comes from a political household. Her artist grandfather Mungurrawuy Yunupingu helped spearhead the land rights battle in the Sixties; her late uncle Mandawuy Yunupingu was the joint founder of Yothu Yindi; her son Gapanbulu Yunupingu performed yidaki in the group and now typically fronts the band. However Munuŋgurr’s paintings largely explores her deep esoteric data of Yolŋu tales. Portray for her is “therapeutic”, she explains. “It keeps me alive.”

In 2005 a near-fatal automobile accident left Munuŋgurr with everlasting bodily disabilities and an acquired mind damage. Throughout the seven months she spent in hospital in Darwin – 700km west of Yirrkala – her mom and French husband Tony Gintz obtained particular permission to take Munuŋgurr on excursions to the close by bush for conventional therapeutic periods. Her mom would dig a pit and add coals to create a pure sauna after which overlay it with paperbark and therapeutic crops. Munuŋgurr could be positioned inside. “I used to be cooked in an underground oven!” Munuŋgurr hoots.

Dhambit Munuŋgurr’s husband Tony Gintz collects the stringybark she uses for her work.

Stubbs elaborates: “Her preliminary evaluation by the docs was that she could be a vegetable with no capability to dwell any life. Tony and her mom defied that and thru these therapeutic processes she was capable of return house. And the first second she was capable of, she painted, and thru portray she has healed herself.”

The accident impeded the use of her dominant proper hand, so Munuŋgurr realized to wield her marwat (a conventional paintbrush produced from her personal hair) together with her left. Her accidents additionally made it tough for her to gather and grind the ochres and different earth pigments that Yolŋu artists usually use on their canvases, so the elders gave her permission on compassionate grounds to make use of acrylic paint as an alternative. After years of recreating conventional colors with orange, pink and yellow paints, Munuŋgurr switched in 2019 to portray her bigger works in the vivid shades of azure, ultramarine and turquoise which have come to outline her.

She selected the hue, she has explained, “as a result of the earth is blue, the sky is blue and the sea is blue”.

Dhambit Munuŋgurr’s blue palette

However her husband, who collects the sheets of stringybark for her work – venturing out throughout the moist season with a tomahawk to peel the outer layer off appropriate timber – says: “The work [blue paintings] she does in Buku is simply a small half of her complete physique of work, as a result of when she comes again house, she spends all her time portray [in many colours] … Someday there’s going to be a shocking exhibition of the different facet of Dhambit.”

Stubbs provides: “There’s a transport container full, as a result of Dhambit just isn’t portray for cash, fame or revenue – she wants to color. She has to color compulsively all day, each day.”

Munuŋgurr nods her head: “Day-after-day.”

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Earlier than we dangle up, Munuŋgurr fixes her gaze on me by way of the pc display screen and smiles. “I’ll paint you in the future,” she says, grinning. “You, speaking to me.”

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