George Buranday Waynbarrnga was among the group of Djambarrpuyngu clans who moved to the small island of community of Milingimbi in Arnhem Land following the establishment of the mission by the Methodist Church in 1923. Although his birth date is recorded as being around 1914, it is likely he was born earlier, as he is recorded by the first anthropologist to come to the island, W Lloyd Warner, as having an active role in the severe clan feuding that took place within Arnhem Land in the 1920s and claimed the life of Buranday’s brother.
In the 1950s Buranday began to engage with the art market as the then mission superintendent, Reverend Edgar Wells, formalised the sale of artworks through the mission and visits from anthropologists increased. In the ensuing years Buranday worked consistently, creating bark paintings, paperbark objects and carved wooden sculptures. A major focus of his work was the mortuary rites of the Dhuwa moiety, particularly Banumbirr, the morning star. One of Buranday’s bark paintings of Banumbirr features on the cover of Sandra Le Brun Holmes’ LP recording of 1963, ‘Land of the morning star: songs and music of Arnhem Land’, and he was recorded by the musicologist Alice Moyle singing part of the song cycle for Banumbirr with Johnny Djatdjamirrilil at Milingimbi in 1962.
In Gurrpulu, flood plain at sunrise c1950s Buranday captures the rising rays of the sun glistening in small pools of water that remain on the mud flats at low tide. The work refers to the plains area of the Napier Peninsula. Distinguishing this location as dawn breaks, Buranday alludes to both the time when ceremonies will conclude and the return of the morning star, accompanied by the souls of those recently departed, to the island of Burralku. This work showcases Buranday’s graphic line work and bold execution in brilliant but simple form.
Like Binyinyuwuy, Buranday belonged to the Djambarrpuyngu Waynbarrnga clan and gave graphic form to därrpa, the king brown snake, to which both men were innately connected. In Därrpa (king brown snakes) c1950s Buranday provides two views of därrpa. In the lower section they are extended between the horizontal bands of fine cross-hatching; in the upper section they are seemingly trapped, their forms compressed and contorted, with this sense of restriction intensified by the multidirectional infill that echoes their angular bodies. Dominant in this work is Buranday’s unique use of bands of colour to create the background over which the figurative elements are laid, with the use of red and black following the forms of the snakes and creating complex divisions. Generally such fields provide a more neutral ground that is distinct from figurative elements or detailing.
The spirited work Wurrpan (emu) c1950s showcases Buranday’s skill with three-dimensional forms. Constructed from paperbark bound with handmade string, it is adorned with simple stripes in natural pigments and actual feathers. The work eloquently captures the character of an emu and is held by the dancer personifying it within the Wurrpan ceremony. Binyinyuwuy danced with such a sculpture at a Wurrpan ceremony in Milingimbi in the 1960s, as recorded by Alan Fidock, with Dawidi as his hunter. The hunter’s torso and arms were painted with similar lines of colour to the emu, creating a striking image as he enacted the movements of the emu within the ceremony.
Art from Milingimbi: taking memories back, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 2016