Solidarity: Inscriptions for the future
Winsome Jobling, Djirrirra Wununmurra & Mulkun Wirrpanda.
22 June to 27 July 2019
In 'Solidarity: Inscriptions for the Future', three artist educators from northern Australia deploy the art of botanical illustration to tell stories: Winsome Jobling on endangered landscape and accelerated climate change, Mulkun Wirrpanda on using natural foods to live strong lives and Djirrirra Wununmurra on the importance of clan tradition and life-long learning.
The concept of solidarity accepts that although we have different struggles, we share and live on common ground. The three have crossed paths in the context of Nomad Art Projects in Darwin or Buku-Larrngay Art Centre at Yirrkala and have worked on shared projects. This is one of a number of exhibitions that draw together like-minded artists, critical thinking and innovation from remote Australia into the urban context of Kings Cross in Sydney.
For Yolnu artists Djirrirra Wununmurra and Mulkun Wirrpanda, the songs of sacred places relate to the past, present and future simultaneously, whlist equally being pointedly day to day. They use art to map the landscape and the relationships between people and when needed as legal documents.
Winsome Jobling’s art reflects Indigenous cultural and natural heritage through a philosophy of sustainability and respect. Her paper-making expertise and botanical studies are renowned: she sources and harvests plants from across the Northern Territory, transforming natural materials into tactile images and installations.
Just before the Australian Federal election in May 2019, the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere reached a record high: the earth is now the hottest it has ever been. A grim United Nations report stated one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction due to human activity.
The re-election of a conservative government means the Adani coal mine and other leases in the vast Galilee Basin will go ahead, as will investments in fracking, coal seam gas and offshore drilling especially in the Northern Territory, and Australia will remain on track in its failure to reach its carbon dioxide targets. It is now two years since The Uluru Statement from the Heart was endorsed by Indigenous Australia. Will the statement continue to be stamped by the government with the patronising words “too likely to fail”? How do we visualise a future?
The botanical paintings, drawings and prints in 'Solidarity: Inscriptions for the Future' embody layers of metaphor, meaning and pedagogical practice to communicate connections between an individual and specific parts of country. We are invited in the spirit of solidarity to ‘walk together’. For Yolnu the connections between various clans explain the forces that act upon and within the environment and the spirit’s path through existence: a knowledge that deepens in complexity and secrecy as a person progresses through a life-long learning process.
Winsome Jobling’s selected works in 'Solidarity: Inscriptions for the Future' relate to her local study area of 15 years standing: six hectares of bushland on the outskirts of Darwin sitting between National Park and the Darwin Speedway. The terrain shifts from savannah forest, into mangrove and into low wet pandanus swamp. Here the artist researches, collects dyes, earth pigments, plant fibres and re-seeds and regenerates. The works depict sand palm (Livistona humilis) one of the species used for making dilly bags and baskets and age-old cycads that grow under a canopy of Stringy Bark trees (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). Increasingly this “magical place” has become a place to despair as the invasive weed Gamba grass (Andropogen gayanus) extends further, or another fridge or pile of building material is dumped.
Winsome Jobling says: "My work is both a collaboration with the natural world and a haptic response to our impact on it." (Chatter, exhibition catalogue, BOAA at Ballarat, 2018)
Mulkun Wirrpanda’s relief prints (Rakay no 2 and Rakay no 3) are a selected from works made for the national touring exhibition: 'Midawarr / Harvest – The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolsley'. Winsome Jobling bravely made the paper for these two prints from Stringy Bark trees used for larrakitj, the hollow coffins created to hold the bones of the dead— sometimes referred to as the mother’s womb—and a longstanding contemporary art form. The process was "challenging".
Mulkun Wirrpanda says, "Once I started painting food plants without reference to their sacred identity, I had to find a new way to paint. So I had to let the plants tell me what their secular identify or character was." (Midawarr/Harvest, exhibition catalogue, 2018, p.18)
Djirrirra Wununmurra delves into the artistic and cultural dimensions related to the yam ceremony or Yukuwa — the artist’s moiety and a metaphor for the renewal of the relationships between Yirritja moiety clans of East Arnhem Land (Northern Territory) and their land. The invitation to such a ceremony is presented as an object in the form of a yam with strings emanating from it with feathered flowers at the end: a suggestion of the kinship lines which tie groups together.
Yukuwa is also one of the artist’s personal names and almost a self-portrait: a subject as well as a conceptual tool. In the intense critical discourse of Arnhem Land and the art centre, Djirrirra was challenged by a family member about her right to paint Buyku the fish-trap imagery of her clan and homeland. Rather than argue she asserted her own personal identity and painted the Yukuwa motif, her name. This astonishing riposte dissipated the criticism. That year her new motif won the highly competitive ‘Best Bark’ at the 2012 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award held at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
The Yukuwa paintings are rarely distracted by colour: they are often dramatically incised into the bark surface and painted over a light ground creating an ethereal quality or she dramatically paints white on black. Djirrirra’s monochrome invitations challenge attitudes to both traditional and contemporary approaches to ‘mark making’.
Djirrirra Wununmurra continues to paint Buyku the fishtrap in the restrained geometric style derived from the traditional form. In the simple geometry of the grid artists of the twentieth century discovered a stable ideal, whose uniform proportions suited the pragmatic structure of modernity. For this reason her precise work is often placed alongside urban minimalist or geometric artists.
Online Exhibition Catalogue - Coming soon...
Images: [left] Winsome Jobling, Resilience, 2018. 124 x 52. Handmade papers; Gamba Grass, Spear Grass and Abaca with drypoint and stitching [middle] Winsome Jobling, Guardian, 2018. 119 x 42. Handmade papers; Gamba Grass and Abac with watermarks, drypoint, chin colle and stitching. [right] Winsome Jobling, Custodian, 2018. 120 x 60. Handmade paper; Spear Grass, Banyan and Abaca with watermarks, bushfire ash, drypoint, chin colle and stitching
Mulkun Wirrpanda, Rakay no 1. 92 x 47cm
125 x 82.5cm. Paper: Mulberry, 25gsm. (139-16-8/25)
Mulkun Wirrpanda, Rakay no 2
28.5 x 54.5cm. 28.5 x 54.5cm Paper: Handmade Stringbark by Winsome Jobling. (140-16-29/30)
Mulkun Wirrpanda, Rakay, no 3
28.5 x 54.5cm: Paper: Handmade Stringbark by Winsome Jobling. (147-16-8/30)
Winsome Jobling lives in Darwin where she has experimented with approximately 60 native and introduced plant species over 3 decades and participated in many cross-cultural papermaking projects. She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2008 and has since experimented in combining printmaking with handmade paper: linking to the environment on both political and physical grounds, to reference the nature of knowledge, ownership, power, and history. She has presented at the prestigious International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA), Watermarks Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. She held a highly successful retrospective Winsome Jobling: The Nature of Paper at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in 2015 (curated by Angus Cameron of Nomad Art Productions) and maintains her career as a highly regarded art teacher.
Mulkun Wirrpanda has been making art since the 1980s and is a senior ceremonial authority of the Dhudi-Djapu clan of the Dhuwa moiety who now lives in Yirrkala. She is an undisputed expert in Yolnu ecological, cultural and plant knowledge as manifest in Midawarr / Harvest. The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolsley, a National Museum of Australia touring exhibition and catalogue. She has exhibited at The Cross Art Projects since 2007 and subsequently with John Wolsley at Roslyn Oxley Gallery in Sydney.
Djirrirra Wununmurra (also known as Yukuwa) was selected for Cross Currents: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art, a major art survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 (curator John Stringer) and the following year won the TOGA Northern Territory Contemporary Art Award. She held her first solo show at Vivien Anderson Gallery in 2009 and thereafter with Short Street in Broome and Raft Artspace in Darwin. In 2012 she followed her father Yanggarriny Wunungmurra (1932-2003) and brother Nawurapu Wunungmurra by winning Best Bark at the 29th NATSIAA with her a new Yukuwa motif. Djirrirra was trained and granted authority by her father winner of 1997 Telstra First Prize.
In 2013 she expanded her use of media beyond naturally occurring ochres and bark to paper and other media. She has collaborated with Yirrkala Print Space and the Tamarind Institute where she worked with American Indigenous artists in Albuquerque. She continues to live at the remote Yolgnu homeland of Gangan where she and her family have lived since before Western housing was erected.
Images:  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 172 x 67cm. Cat#: 3654-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 107 x 49.5cm. Cat#: 745-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 150 x 50cm. Cat#: 4699-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 106 x 42cm. Cat#: 2012-17
Images:  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 81 x 35cm. Cat#: 4307-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 56 x 117cm. Cat#: 4798-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa, Earth pigments on Stringybark, 150 x 150cm. Cat#: 4699-17  Djirrirra Wununmurra Yukuwa, Yukuwa (Djirrirra), Earth pigments on Stringybark, 117 x 31.5cm. Cat#: 675-17
Presented with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, Australia. http://www.yirrkala.com/
Buku-Larrngay Art Centre was founded in 1976 by Yolnu to take their destinies into their own hands. This happened in the spirit of Narrrritjin Maymuru, who had already set up his own beachfront gallery in the 1960s from which he sold art that now graces major museums and private art collections worldwide. Art from Yirrkala also belongs to the first indigenous art forms that were actively used for political reasons, especially in the fight for land and sea rights.
Rite of Spring / Rrarrandharr: Malaluba Gumana with Djirrirra Wunungmurra / Saskia Havekes (2011)
Mulkun Wirrpanda – One Lore, Two Law, Outlaw: Dhakiyarr vs The King (2007) at http://crossart.com.au/archive/104-2007-exhibitions-projects/72-one-lore-two-law-outlaw-dhakiyarr-vs-the-king
Replant: a new generation of botanical art (2006). Replant artists: Debra Wurrkidj, Fiona Hall, Irene Mungatopi, Judy Watson, Marita Sambono and Winsome Jobling. At https://www.nomadart.com.au/?p=4031
Winsome Jobling, Chatter, exhibition catalogue, inaugural Biennale of Australian Art (BOAA) at Ballarat (2018) at https://www.nomadart.com.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Winsome-Jobling-ChatterLR.pdf
Midawarr / Harvest. The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolsley (2018) a National Museum of Australia at https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/midawarr-harvest
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, ‘IPBES Global Assessment’ (2019), at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/
ABC Science, ‘Australia not on track to hit Paris emissions goals, as UN warns global efforts must increase’ by Nick Kilvert, 28 November 2018 at https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-11-28/climate-un-environment-report-australia-not-on-track-paris/10554058