Some circles
Some circles

Ms Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

1945 - 2021 Some circles 2011
  • Natural ochre on bark
95 cm x 120 cm

Acclaimed for her extraordinary gift of mark-making and storytelling, Ms N. Yunupiŋu (1945-2021) was one of the most celebrated and influential Aboriginal Australian artists. Her art practice remains independent of bark painting traditions that she inherited from the Yirrkala region/Yolŋu people of Arnhem Land where she lived. Her figurative and abstract works unleash a unique set of personal narrative paintings revolving around her own experiences. 

Nyapanyapa is in tune with the little things. The real. The actual. She sees clearly the insignificant. She dwells in a world of insignificance. She sustains herself from it. She is herself ‘insignificant’.

As a Yolngu artist who paints birrka’mirri, or anything paintings, rather than declaiming Yolngu Law through sacred design. As a tiny old woman who is basically deaf. As the little one with a quiet and gentle personality in a family of superhuman, loud overachievers. As the childless 13th wife of elder statesman Djiriny, who had 14 wives but only 11 children. As a Yolngu woman who doesn’t speak English in a world where all resources have slowly accreted to those that do, and who insist that all negotiations take place in that language.

This is the mark made by a being who exists in a dimension unpierced by the arrow of time. We respond to it because we too exist in that same dimension although our programming denies it. This is the reality of the little things that exist without calculation or cynicism. The little things that just are.

—Will Stubbs, 2021

Ms N. Yunupingu lived and worked in Yirrkala, near Nhulunbuy in north-east Arnhem Land, and was a Yolngu woman with a rich artistic genealogy, including musicians Mandawuy Yunupingu of Yothu Yindi and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, and the Gumatj patriarch and artist Munggurrawuy Yunupingu. Yunupingu’s art practice remains independent of bark painting traditions of the Yirrkala region/ Yolngu people of Arnhem Land. Yunupingu’s work is valued for the spontaneity and texture of her draughtsmanship. Her figurative and abstract works unleash a unique set of personal narratives revolving around her own experiences. She also employed unconventional materials such as texta-pen on clear acetate sheet, recycled paper and board during the dry season when the supply of bark runs low. While the impression is recognisably Yunupingu, the finish and texture create a fascinating reconfiguration of her distinct visual language.

More by this artist

Ms Nyapanyapa Yunupingu 1945 - 2021 Birrka'mirr
  • acquatint etching
62 cm x 86 cm

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The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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