22 May - 13 June 2021
The cross hatching grid pattern seen in many of these works is the miny’tji or sacred design for the fresh waters of the Djapu clan at their homeland, Waṉḏawuy now an outstation about 150 kilometres south of Yirrkala and inland from Blue Mud Bay.
Miny’tji is effectively a language which provides a mnemonic code to a defined text which are the words of the epic song cycle of the place depicted. Hundreds of 10-50 stanza songs which can, and in rare cases have been, recorded, transcribed and translated. So that each miny’tji literally translates to multiple volumes akin to the Illiad or the Odyssey.
This Djapu clan outstation (and spiritual residence for Ancestral Beings Mäna the Shark and Bol’ŋu the Thunderman) is surrounded by permanent freshwater. Rains inspired by the actions of Bol’ŋu feed the rivers and fill the billabongs. Catfish and mussels, freshwater crayfish and others feed the Yolŋu and wild life. The waters are home for the shark Mäna. The grid refers to the landscape of Wandawuy; In the dry season the river becomes a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks. Its structure also having reference at one level to woven fish traps.
Ancestral Hunters set a fishtrap here. These Yolngu people are called Bärngbarng and Monuḻa who came to cut the trees named Guḻuwu, Gathurrmakarr, Nyenyi, Rulwirrika and Gananyarra - all Dhuwa trees.
They used straight young trees. And cut them with their axes called Gaymaḻarri, Bitjutju. Areas of the river are staked by the Yolŋu and branches interwoven through them. Then the water is polluted by a particular pulped bark called dhaŋgi (Planchonia careya- ‘Cocky Apple’) that anaesthetises the Gaṉŋal that hobble to the surface. With nets constructed similarly to the the beak of Galumay the Pelican, known as ganybu, the Yolŋu wade through the waters scooping up the fish. As the songs record, it has been fished this way since Ancestral times. Gaṉŋal the catfish, totem for the Djapu is ceremonially sung as is Galumay the pelican. Both these species frequent the waters of Waṉḏawuy.
Meanwhile in events far far away Mäṉa the ancestral shark has been speared. In pain, fear and anger it drives through, and sometimes under, the landscape, until he is momentarily restrained by the trap which has been laid. Unable to break the bonds of mortality his fury increases.
Until the powers and physical strength of the Shark overcome the efforts of mere mortals. Mäna’s ire and thrashing tail smash the trap and muddy the water.
The hunters witness the strength of Mäna and sing his actions, the thrashing of his tail for one, the muddying, sanctification or contamination of the water. The grid lines having reference to the trap, the cross hatched squares referring to differing states of the freshwater - the source of Djapu soul.
At ceremony appropriate participants for mortuary rites enter the shelter (woven together like the unsuccessful trap) where the deceased has been lying in state. Sacred spears tipped with stingray barbs, manifestations of Mäna’s teeth, stand up alongside the shelter. The sacred song cycles of Mäna in the water at Waṉḏawuy are intoned with music from the Yiḏaki (didjeridu) and Biḻma (clapsticks). At the prescribed time at the conclusion of ceremony the dancers crash through the walls of the deceased’s shelter imitating the actions of Mäna at the trap. They are not acting but becoming the shark. This action has reference to the release of the deceased’s soul, back to the sacred waters of Wandawuy to be reunited with its ancestors awaiting rebirth. Literally breaking the earthly shackles that bind the spirit to this dimension.
Waṉḏawuy literally means place of the Sharks head where in the larger context of the song cycles of Mana’s journey his head came to rest after being butchered and distributed through the land.
The people who have painted this body of work have all lived for extensive periods of time, if not their whole life, in this place. They have all given their own hand and vision to a faithful rendition of its nature. They each correctly ‘spell’ the words of that sacred epic poetry. And yet each piece is so different within that tightly prescribed discipline. Like the different handwriting of the scribes of ancient texts in Western culture. Individual humanity and artistry will not be denied. Just as infinite progression of the soul cannot be impeded.
Will Stubbs - Coordinator Buku-Larrnggay Mulka
*Noŋgirrŋa Marawili's artwork appears courtesy of the Alcaston Gallery
This exhibition is brought to you by Outstation, in collaboration with the following art centres:
When and where
22 May - 13 June 2021
8 Parap Place
This Outstation exhibition is comprised of works from the following artists:
- Balwaldja Wanapa Munuŋgurr
- Marrnyula Munuŋgurr
- Noŋgirrŋa Marawili
- Yimula Munuŋgurr