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Marrnyula Mununggurr

Marrnyula Mununggurr (born 1964, Djapu, Waṉḏawuy/Yirrkala, Arnhem region) Djapu 2013, natural pigments on wood, 262 × 15 × 17 cm, Tony Gilbert Bequest Fund 2013, Art Gallery of NSW collection © Marrnyula Mununggurr, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala

That square one that you can see it’s my painting, my designs, and my father’s and my grandfather’s designs, like you can see on the crayon drawings. – Marrnyula Munungurr, Yirrkala, 2013

Marrnyula Mununggurr is among the generation of exceptional female artists working at Yirrkala who have been taught to paint by their fathers and grandfathers and are now painting many of the sites and designs that would once have been the sole domain of men. Mununggurr was instructed in painting by her father, Djutjadjutja Mununggurr, and now works closely with her mother, Nonggirrnga Marawili, also an artist. Mununggurr began her career as a printmaker and was for many years the senior printmaker at Yirrkala Printspace. Her attention to detail, consistency in application and clarity of design are informed by this experience.

The strong grid pattern dominating Djapu 2013 refers to the Djapu clan site of Waṉḏawuy. This outstation is surrounded by permanent freshwater and is associated with both Mäna the ancestral shark and Bol’ngu the thunderman. Rains inspired by the actions of Bol’ngu feed the rivers and fill the billabongs, resulting in a rich sea life that is a home for mäna. The grid refers to the landscape of the site, a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks and also relates to the grid of a woven fish trap set here by ancestral hunters.

Marrnyula Munungurr’s grandfather was Wonggu Mununggurr (c1880-1959), the famous Djapu clan artist and leader who led resistance to incursions on his land before the establishment of the Methodist Yirrkala Mission in 1935.

Questions and activities

  • Look at the designs on Djapu 2013 and describe the surface and colours. Notice pattern, repetition and rhythm. How has the paint been applied? What kind of a tool has been used? Study the drawing Fish trap at Wanduwuy 1947 by Mununggurr’s grandfather, Wonggu Mununggurr, and find similarities and differences between the designs on ḻarrakitj and the drawing.
  • Munungurr and her grandfather each depict designs associated with an important place. Think of a place that is important to you and develop your own design based on a geometric shape to represent different things about yourself. Repeat the shape to create a pattern. Experiment with bold, contrasting colour schemes to create a work that has optical effects, like movement and visual static. Try painting this pattern onto different surfaces.
  • Watch the video and listen to the way Mununggurr talks about her different paintings of freshwater and saltwater. Observe different examples of water in your environment: the ocean, bath, creeks and rain. Notice how it looks when still or moving. Use pattern and colour to create a design that suggests the movement of this water.

Related work

Wonggu Mununggurr Fish trap at Waṉḏawuy 1947, lumber crayon on butchers paper, 115 × 74 cm, RM and CH Berndt Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of WA, Perth