Congratulations to Garawan Wanambi, Winner of 31st Telstra NATSIAA Bark Award!
We are very excited to present our first exhibition of barks and larrakitj (burial poles) from Buku-Larrngay Mulka at Yirrkala, NT.
Over its long history, Buku-Larrngay Mulka has justifiably earned a reputation as a centre of artistic excellence and innovation. Collectively, the art centre has shifted critical perceptions of barks and larrakitj (burial poles) away from ‘ethnographic object’ to fine art, sought after by public and private collectors around the world. The genius of Buku-Larrngay’s artists is in their ability to remain faithful to their traditions while subtly shifting their aesthetics and practices to marry traditional conceptual ideologies with a twenty-first sensibility that values the abstract.
And therein lies the irony: according to long-time art centre manager, Will Stubbs, the absence of the figurative in much of recent work is in fact a return to traditional modes of artistic expression. Stubbs explains that the introduction of figurative elements was in response to the Europeans’ inability to understand the highly conceptual representation of culture; how the Yolngu represented their physical and spiritual world view was an impenetrable configuration of patterns to the European eye. The addition of floral and faunal motifs was an innovation to assist the non-Yolngu viewer in recognising the object’s story (pers. comm. July 2014).
This group exhibition by four younger-generation artists highlights the innovations taking place at Buku-Larrngay. It is important to note that despite being created as artworks as opposed to ritual objects, the designs and media are still considered to be sacred. Any changes to their execution and expression are done with the permission of the artists’ Elders.
Perhaps one of the most striking characteristics of these exquisite barks and larrakitj is the introduction of pink, grey, and soft yellow. Traditionally, ochres were not blended as each colour has symbolic meaning. However, this broadening of the palette has allowed Manini, Garawan, Marrnyula and Galuma to depict their stories in a new and intriguing way. These softer colours are not immediately apparent from a distance and it is only on closer inspection that the level of detail becomes apparent.
In the hands of these four accomplished artists, ochre and bark leaps to the forefront of contemporary art practice.