We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





Wanapati Yunupiŋu


1989 –

Language group: Gumatj, Arnhem region

  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Yirrkala North-east Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Media categories
    Metalwork , Sculpture
    Materials used
    181.0 x 60.0 cm
    Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 2021
    North Building, ground level, Yiribana Gallery
    Accession number
    © Wanapati Yunupingu

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Wanapati Yunupiŋu

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Wanapati Yunupiŋu is the son of the deceased artist and ceremonial leader of the Gumatj clan at Biranybirany, Miniyawany Yunupiŋu. Wanapati Yunupiŋu was trained by and inherited the ceremonial instructions of his father while living between Wandawuy and Biranybirany. He is a promising young artist who has been exhibiting since 2019. He was a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award in 2021.
    The art centre documentation for the work states:
    ‘In ancestral times, the leaders of Yirritja moiety clans used fire for the first time during a ceremony at Ŋalarrwuy in Gumatj country. This came about as fire brought to the Madarrpa clan country by Bäru the ancestral crocodile, spread north and swept through the ceremonial ground. From this ceremonial ground the fire spread further to other sites. Various ancestral animals were affected and reacted in different ways. These animals became sacred for the Gumatj people, and the areas associated with these events became important sites. The fire spread inland from the ceremonial ground and burnt the nest of Waṉkurra (Bandicoot) forcing him to hide in a hollow log ḻarrakitj to save himself. Waṉkurra is thus danced and sung at mortuary ceremony as he is associated with the burial log used to contain the bones of the deceased. Djirikitj, the quail (sometimes called the’ fire making bird’), picked up a burning twig from this fire and flew away with it, dropping it at Maṯamaṯa. There is a large paperbark swamp at Maṯamaṯa, where native honeybees live. Fire from the burning twig dropped by Djirikitj took hold of the tall grass in the swamp area and the native bees fled to Djiliwirri in Gupapuyŋu clan country. Thus, Gupapuyŋu honey and Gumatj fire are linked through these ancestral events, and also refer to a relationship between these two clans which is played out in ceremony. The honey eating Pee-Wee Biṯiwiṯi built its nest high up in the trees safe from the fire - its song was to be heard after the morning of the fire. The indestructible spider Garr came out after the fire had passed and spun its web between the trees which is said to catch the souls of the Yirritja dead. Garrtjambal the kangaroo was as frightened of Waṉkurra and ran away from the fire burning his feet in the hot ash as he did so. Waṉkurra travelled through the hollow log with its tail on fire transferring the Gumatj identity to new places. The harbinger of death is Ŋerrk, sulphur crested white cockatoo who is intimately associated with this place, these people and this ceremony. Another powerful Gumatj bird is Djilawurr whose sites are often associated with freshwater rainforest adjacent to the harbours of Macassans. Gamata, a sea grass is a manifestation of fire on the seabed, the ribbons of grass sway like flames. Dugong feed on this sea grass. These creatures are all associated with named sites which were burnt as the ancestral fire spread across the land. Where the sites described occur outside Gumatj clan country, the path of the fire represents important relationships held between these clans. The Gumatj clan design associated with these events, a diamond design, represents fire - the red flames, the white smoke and ash, the black charcoal and the yellow dust, and also the black skin, yellow fat, white bone and red blood of Gumatj people. Clans owning connected parts of this sequence of ancestral events share variations of this diamond design.’

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

Other works by Wanapati Yunupiŋu