Earth and Sky
John Mawurndjul and Gulumbu Yunupingu
Earth and Sky celebrates two of Australia’s most significant and influential artists, John Mawurndjul and the late Gulumbu Yunupingu. Well versed in the traditions of their respective Arnhem Land communities, Yunupingu and Mawurndjul have each forged a distinctive artistic course; personal narratives which are inextricably linked to the traditions of millennia. The spiritual nature of this engagement is distilled in paintings that resonate with a power that is both ceremonial and celebratory. Their works not only reveal their singular vision, they herald the emergence of bark painting as a vital form of contemporary art practice that eloquently asserts their people’s enduring connection to Country—the earth and sky and all in between.
The paintings of Kuninjku artist John Mawurndjul embody the earthly, the terrestrial, and the ancestral realm. His ‘abstract’ bark paintings represent body painting for the sacred Mardayin ceremonies and relate to the landscape and significant sites within his homeland in western Arnhem Land. The optical effects created by Mawurndjul’s distinctive use of rarrk (cross hatching) also evokes the skin of Ngalyod (the rainbow serpent).
Initially inspired by her traditional Gumatj stories of the Pleiades and other constellations, the late Gulumbu Yunupingu painted Garak (the universe) and its stars and galaxies, interpreting these ancestral concepts within the realms of her own imagination. Her bark paintings are expressions of the cosmos, the celestial realm, with its infinite depths, depicted in fields of intricate patterning. Yunupingu’s paintings reveal depth of Yolngu knowledge of Country and suggest the intimate personal associations of this story for the artist.
From the ancient traditions of Arnhem Land, the panoptic and panoramic works of these artists reveal a shared visionary philosophy honed over years of practice. We see this in the way that Yunupingu paints the stars that cannot be seen and in how Mawurndjul’s works embody, without revealing, ‘inside’ cultural knowledge. Their literal and metaphorical depiction of astral and terrestrial landscapes express the unity of humanity: the past, present and future people that inhabit these worlds.
Part of ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2015, 11 April–17 May 2015, a Melbourne-wide festival of art exhibitions, forums and talks seeking to harness the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change. For more information: www.artclimatechange.org.