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Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (born 1945, Gumatj, Arnhem region) Mayilimiriw 2010, natural pigments on wood, 222 × 12 × 14.5 cm, Tony Gilbert Bequest Fund 2013, Art Gallery of NSW collection © Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala

I didn’t do trees, rocks or anything else at all. I didn’t put the rocks onto the paintings. I only made designs. – Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Yirrkala, 2013

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu is perhaps the most influential artist working at Yirrkala today. Yunipingu, the daughter of prominent Yolngu artist Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, has distinguished herself by deliberately avoiding the clan stories and designs she has inherited to create works that explore aspects of the everyday and the process of making art itself.

Yunupingu’s paintings are truly unique, both in their subject matter and in their execution. Rather than depict ancestral stories she has inherited from her family, Yunupingu focuses on actual events from her own life and renders these in animated detail in her works.

The title of the ḻarrakitj (hollow log) Mayilimiriw 2010 can be directly translated as 'meaningless’. Yunupingu has used this title for a series of works she has produced since 2009 in which she jokingly counteracts the almost accepted convention of meaning being embedded within Yolngu art. Indeed this is the norm and Yunupingu is perhaps the first Yolngu artist to consciously eliminate this aspect from her work, allowing her to more freely focus on line, form and colour. However, in doing this she refers to the process of painting with natural pigments and the application of cross-hatching, which she renders in an energetic and rhythmic manner.

Yunupingu’s style of painting is in stark contrast to the highly geometric works being produced by most artists working through Yirrkala today and to the tightly composed paintings produced by artists in the past such as Yunupingu’s father, Munggurrawuy Yunupingu.

Questions and activities

  • Describe what you can see in Mayilimiriw 2010 by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Watch the video and listen to what the artist says about her designs. What do the circles relate to? How did she learn to paint? In class, talk about what you have learned from watching your parents or older friends doing it first.
  • Look at the drawing Port of Macassar 1947 by Nyapanyapa’s grandfather Munggurrawuy Yunupingu. Are there any similarities with Mayilimiriw? Identify elements that suggest a port town.
  • Find Macassar on a map. It is thought that Munggurrawuy Yunupingu may have travelled there and based this drawing on his memories of this visit. Imagine the sea voyage he might have made on a Macassan prau. Make a detailed map based on your memories of a place you have visited.
  • Think of a recent event in your life and create a painting to share this experience with the class. Consider what people, places and objects you should include. Select colours to convey the mood of the event. Write an accompanying story for your painting and have a class exhibition of the images and texts.
  • Nyapanyapa Yunupingu has a strong family tradition of painting. Research work by her father Munggurrawuy and sisters Barrupu and Gulumbu in the Gallery’s collection. Look at paintings such as The Thunder Spirits (Birimbira) 1961 by Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, Gurtha 2009 by Barrupu Yunupingu and Ganyu 2009 by Gulumbu Yunupingu, and discuss how the artists have maintained a common visual identity and family tradition in their works.

Related work

Munggurrawuy Yunupingu Port of Macassar 1947, lumber crayon on butchers paper, 114 × 74 cm, RM and CH Berndt Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of WA, Perth