A stunning exhibition of Aboriginal bark paintings and larrakitj (memorial poles) is currently on display at the La Trobe Art Institute.
Miwatj presents the work of five highly respected senior Yolngu leaders: Birrikitji Gumana (c.1898-1982), Dr Gumana AO (c.1935-2016), Mithinarri Gurruwiwi (c.1929-1976), Narritjin Maymuru (c.1916-1981) and Wandjuk Marika OBE (c.1927-1987).
These senior men were highly respected community leaders and embraced the act of painting as a means of communicating Yolngu culture with non-Yolngu people.
The art works have been in the La Trobe University collection since 1983.
Miwatj is superbly co-curated by Travis Hodgson with Yolnu men, Wukun Wanambi and Ishmael Marika.
Mr Hodgson spoke to Wukun Wanambi and Ishmael Marika when he travelled to Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land in February of this year.
He met with them at the Buku-Larrngay Mulka Art Centre which is based there.
Miwatj refers to the sunrise country, the furtherest north-eastern part of Arnhem Land – the country that receives the first morning sun as it rises to the east.
Mr Hodgson said the artists in the exhibition were leaders as well as artists.
“Their artwork was essentionally a way of speaking to people about the matters that were concerning them,” he said.
Pressure from mining companies motivated the leaders as artists to assert Yolngu sovereignty and custodianship over the Miwatji region.
Mr Hodgson said that effectively the artists were establishing the strength of their culture by expressing the continuity of land and sea throughout their land.
He also added that visitors to the LAI could alternatively put aside the political meaning of the artworks and look at them as essentially beautiful pieces.
Miwatj will be on display at the LAI until Saturday, July 7.
– Dianne Dempsey