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Gumana and Yunupiŋu

Old Masters: Australia's great bark artists

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Gumana and Yunupiŋu

The Gumana and Yunupiŋu dynasties of the moiety include the ceremonial leaders Birrikitji Gumana of the Dhalwaŋu clan, and Muŋgurrawuy Yunupiŋu of the Gumatj clan. Their atmospheric paintings evoke the freshwater rivers and fires of the Arnhem Land forests.

Muŋgurrawuy paints the ancestrally created fire that is used by Yolŋu as a land management technique known as firestick farming. The Great Bushfire Dreaming is a depiction of the use of fire to clear and regenerate the land, to prevent devastating wild fires and corral prey when hunting. The Gumatj miny’tji of linked diamond shapes seemingly shimmers with heat: the black, white and red crosshatching represents charred earth, smoke and ash, and burning cinders and fire respectively.

In Birrikitji’s The Four Great Yirritja Lawgivers, the figure in the lower left of the painting is the Yirritja ancestor Barama, who emerged at Gangan on the Koolatong River, his body covered in patterns made by salt water and with water weeds clinging to his skin. Barama instructed the other ancestors to distribute the law, miny’tji (sacred clan designs) and ritual objects among the Yirritja clans, as seen in Birrikitji’s son Gawirrin’s Barama Spreads the Sacred Law. The Dhalwaŋu clan pattern of linked rows of diamond shapes interrupted by an ellipse indicates the flowing fresh waters and billabongs of the Koolatong River.

Paintings in the exhibition

Click on the images below to see a larger version and more information, including dimensions. Please note these images are not to scale.


All these bark paintings are part of the National Museum of Australia’s collection. © the artist or the artist’s estate, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency 2013, unless otherwise specified. These images must not be reproduced in any form without permission.