A couple of weeks ago I was questioning the decision by policy-makers at the amazing Buku Larrnggay Art Centre in Yirrkala, far east Arnhermland to present the riches from nine Yolngu community artists at a Paddington gallery best know for the big flowers of Tim Maguire, the spacey Australians of Guan Wei, and the cute creatures of Linda Ivimey.
Now I have nothing but praise for those policy-makers who have three solo shows of great worth on currently in Sydney.
Returning to the original home of Buku – Bill Gregory’s Annandale Galleries – there’s no doubt that Guynbi Ganambarr’s career is closely associated with the eight shows he’s been involved in there. Three were group shows where the likes of Wanyubi Marika stood out. But from 2009, Ganambarr has constantly excited while standing alone, innovating every time. He began by building barks and larrikitj up using sawdust to add a third dimension. Then he opened the door to new materials, as long as they were found on the land as decreed by Yolngu law. This is now recognised as the Found Movement.
After that he began working meticulously on metal, allowing the shimmer of his minýtji representing the meeting of fresh and salt waters to be redoubled by the material’s sheen. Now he’s taken redundant satellite dishes as his canvas, cutting and slashing with his angle-grinder to rarrk them in an infinite variety of patterns. The less removed, the more successful, for their rust and dents from their previous existences just add to their personalities. Sculptures too made from rejected corrugated iron, etc retain the shapes of their abnegation but now have Yolngu culture engraved upon their repudiation.
Proud in the centre of the gallery a 3.6mtr metal tube has become one of the greatest larrikitj ever created.
How does Guynbi blend the modern and the ancient so smoothly? Could it be that living on an outstation of 10 houses, four hours by dirt road from the nearest shop keeps a man bound to ceremony and his culture, while not allowing this super-star to get ahead of himself as he mentors younger artists in the Yolngu’s collective philosophy? The show’s called Mali – The Reflection/My Spirit – which says it all really.
Meanwhile at Sullivan & Strumpf Gallery, not one but two of Buku’s women artists have their solos. Naminapu Maymuru-White is Dancing in the Sky as her show portrays Milngiyawuy – which is both a river that flows into Blue Mud Bay and the Yolngu name for the Milky Way. The flow of the river represents the passage of life on earth; while the Milky Way is both a river of stars overhead in the black Arnhemland night but also the great reservoir of the spirits of those who have died in the Manggalili clan.
Sometimes her barks are happy just to play abstractly with the mixed metaphor of river and stars; sometimes she can’t resist adding a story-line as well. Stars can have individuality or become a matted texture as they blend into a single light mass over the lightyears they are travelling to the Earth.
Upstairs at Sullivan & Strumpf you might jump to the conclusion that a kid’s been let loose in the paintbox. In fact, Marrnayula Mununggurr has turned a concern not to waste the tinyest scraps of bark offcuts from other artists into an artform all of her own. Encouraged by then art assistant Kade McDonald, her scraps became multiplied into a single canvas. Now she paints her scraps on to a single bark, creating what she calls “a puzzle-work” of patterns of dark and light that have their own aesthetic.
But behind the apparent simplicity of her mark-making, Mununggurr is telling the story of the good, healthy water of Wandawuy, her clan Country. Clean enough for the clan ancestor Shark to rush in and hit his head – white clay for the clean, black for the waters muddied up by the Shark thrashing about.
Could it be that good stories, good songs and dances lead to good art?
Artist: Guynbi Ganambarr, Wanyubi Marika, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Marrnayula Mununggurr,