Ms Nyapanyapa Yunupingu1945 - 2021 Ganyu Djulpan 2020
- ochre on board
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.
In the exhibition The Little Things, at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Yunupingu has created her largest and most ambitious work to date, truly expanding her practice. Historically, materials like MDF (compressed fibreboard) were considered inappropriate for use by Yolngu artists; however, a recent philosophical shift permits the use of materials 'found' on country. And as such, we are gifted with the construction of these vast, spectacular paintings on repurposed walls from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre. Nyapanyapa's 'Ganyu' (Stars) paintings refer to the Djulpan (Seven Sisters or Pleiades star cluster) that represent Yolngu women. Through the use of her own motif of stars, Nyapanyapa is memorialising her deceased sisters Gulumbu, Barrupu and Djawundayngu.
'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. Each little insignificant mark made by this little insignificant person is made just as it has to be made in that moment. It doesn't adjust for what will happen next. It is not dreaming of a bigger picture and trying to fit into an imagined completed work. This is what spontaneity looks like.'
Will Stubbs, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre, Yirrkala
© Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre, Yirrkala, NT and Rolysn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney