17 September to 22 October 2016
Conversation: Denise Salvestro, ‘On tradition, change and climate’, Saturday 15 October at 3 pm
Zero Metres Above Sea Level presents an inter-tidal world where different cultures and sciences meet. It brings together artwork from two sites located at mean sea level: Blue Mud Bay, a famous place in Northeast Arnhem Land, home to the respected Yolngu clans, and Heron Island, a respected research station on the Great Barrier Reef. Both centres are bastions of cultural, biological and scientific knowledge. Blue Mud Bay and its outstation estates are together one of the most pristine and culturally significant places in Australia. It is also historically famous for the High Court decision in 2008 to give traditional owners exclusive rights over tidal waterways fringing Aboriginal Land.
Curators: Edwina Circuitt and Jo Holder
Works by Marrnyula Munungurr, Rerrkirrwana Munungurr, at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Yirrkala, August 2016.
Edwina Circuitt: Portrait of Marrnyula Munungurr and Rerrkirrwana Munungurr at Yirrkala, 2016.
Rerrkirrwana Munungurr, Installation detail, 2016.
The sisters Marrnyula and Rerrkirrwana Munungurr assert indigenous climate knowledge in the precise cross-hatching grid pattern of the sacred design on their bark paintings of the freshwaters of their homeland, Wandawuy, inland from Blue Mud Bay. The grid refers to the landscape — a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks that flow to the bay.
The grid structure references the woven fish traps used to scoop up fish that that since Ancestral times have fed the Yolŋu and wild life. At another level, it references the spiritual residence for Ancestral Beings, Mäna the Shark and Bol’ŋu the Thunderman. Wandawuy literally means place of the Shark's head in the larger context of the song cycles of Mäna’s journey.
Judy Watson’s prints, selected from her heron island suite, incorporate research charts by scientists Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Dr Bradley Congdon and Dr Kathy Townsend on mass coral bleaching, coral calcification rate, bleaching relative decrease, net productivity, seasonal-scale El Niño-specific effects and top predator declines (common noddies and sooty terns). Judy Watson researched their work during a residency at the Heron Island Reef Station. See: Judy Watson, heron island suite, http://www.grahamegalleries.com.au/index.php/judy-watson-heron-island-suite
Judy Watson and Marrnyula Munungurr have made fine print work from quiet research residencies; Judy dedicated herself to studying the Great Barrier Reef (2011) and both artists participated in Djalkiri: We are standing on their names — a cross-cultural project on environmental and botanical knowledge researched at Blue Mud Bay. (A project and exhibition curated by Darwin’s pioneering Nomad Art and since 2013 a national touring exhibition.)
The Munungurr sisters’ bark paintings have strong affinities with the Yirrkala Drawings, a sensational exhibition comprising a selection from 365 crayon drawings at the Berndt Museum in Perth: Marrnyula's Larrakitj (painted pole) was one of the tributes from the artists’ descendants shown with the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. (After Berndt, an etching collection, was shown at The Cross Art Projects.)
In different ways, these contemporary and historical projects raised concerns about climate emergency; tragically about 93% of the reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have been affected by coral bleaching and almost a quarter of the reef on the 2,300 km stretch is now dead. Coral has already experienced severe bleaching in every major reef region from reefs around the Maldives and Western Australia to the Pacific, the Red Sea and the Caribbean. In Arnhem Land, Yolngu sea rangers have photographed reefs bleaching and breaking where white coral has never been seen before.
Coral bleaches when water temperatures are a couple of degrees above the normal summer maximum for longer than about two weeks. Climate change has caused global sea surface temperatures to rise by about 1 degree C over the past century, pushing corals closer to their bleaching threshold. A strong El Niño, as well as other weather phenomena, raised the temperature further this year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be disproportionately affected by climate change. Yet it is still difficult for stories of indigenous climate knowledge to be heard. For example, recently scientific surveys in Top End rivers in Kakadu revealed a species of shark whose life cycle takes place entirely in freshwater. The speartooth shark is now known to be critically endangered and is a species previously unrecognised by Western surveys in Australia but present in PNG. (Information adapted from Buku Certificate.) The Munungurr sisters’ thoughtful paintings have been there in plain view with this information.
In northern Australia, through native title and indigenous land management programs, Aboriginal people are potentially responsible for managing 80% of the area’s unique environment. Any targeted response to climate change in this region must work with this knowledge and thousands of years of experience to find pathways both to adaptation and to mitigation.
etching from one zinc plate and screenprint – plate sanguine –
screenprint black, Mass coral bleaching graph courtesy Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
etching from two zinc plates and screenprint – plate 1 brown,
plate 2 black and brown à la poupée – screenprint white, Seasonal-scale El Niño-specific effects graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from one plate and screenprint – plate dark blue – screenprint white, Meal mass and Feed frequency graphs courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from one zinc plate and screenprint – plate yellow ochre – screenprint black, Black noddies feeding frequency and meal size graphs courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon and Sea surface temperature graph courtesy Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
etching from two zinc plates and screenprint – plate 1 yellow, plate 2 red and brown à la poupée – screenprint black Feeding frequency and Seasonal Scale El Niño-specific effects graphs courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from two zinc plates and screenprint – plate 1 brown, plate 2 black – screenprint white, Top predator declines-Common noddies and Sooty terns graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from three zinc plates and screenprint – plate 1 yellow, plate 2 green, plate 3 black – screenprint white, Seasonal-scale El Niño-specific effects and meal size graphs courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from two zinc plates and one screenprint – plate 1 yellow ochre, plate 2 burgundy red – screenprint black, Coral calcification Rate graph courtesy Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Turtle measure graph courtesy Dr Kathy Townsend, Feeding frequency graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from two zinc plates and one screemprint – plate 1 transparent grey, plate 2 aqua blue – screenprint black, Chicks in trouble graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from two zinc plates and two screenprints – plate 1 warm yellow ochre, plate 2 black – screenprint black Bleaching relative decrease and Net productivity graphs courtesy Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, screenprint white, Meal size graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
etching from two zinc plates and two screenprints – plate 1 warm yellow ochre, plate 2 black – screenprint black, Bleaching relative decrease and Net productivity graphs courtesy Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, screenprint white, Meal size graph courtesy Dr Bradley Congdon
Marrnyula Munungurr, Installation detail, 2016.
Image info coming soon...
Marrnyula is the daughter of mother Noŋgirrŋa and Djutjadjutja (c.1935-1999). Her father, Djutjadjutja, was a senior Djapu statesman and winner of the 1997 Best Bark Painting prize in the National Aboriginal and Islander Art awards. Marrnyula began working for the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in the 1980s, and is now a pre-eminent senior printmaker and painter. She became assistant to her father with his sacred Djapu paintings as well as developing her own style of naive narrative paintings, all whilst providing material support and moral leadership in her large family and being ‘mother’ to her brother’s three children. In 2007, with her mother, Nongirrnga Mararwili, Marrnyula exhibited works at Annandale Gallery with paintings of the Djapu clan design. In 2009 she was featured in Making it New at the MCA in Sydney. She was a participant in the Djalkiri: We are standing on their names — Blue Mud Bay exhibition project with Judy Watson, Fiona Hall and John Wolseley, which is still touring Australia. In early 2015 her groundbreaking installation 252 Barks at Gertrude Street Contemporary attracted significant notice, as did her contribution to Mother to Daughter at XAP for the Contemporary Art and Feminism project in 2015 (with Nongirrnga and sister Rerrkirrwana.) > Download full bio as pdf
Rerrkirrwaŋa is the youngest daughter of Nongirrŋa and Djutjadjutja. Her father, Djutjadjutja (c.1935-1999), was a senior Djapu statesman and award winning artist. She is part of a close-knit family of art producers that include her elder sister Marrnyula and mother Nongirrŋa. She is married to Gumatj artist Yalpi Yunupiŋu. Rerrkirrwaŋa was taught to paint by her father; in fact many of the paintings attributed to Djutjadjutja in the early nineties were finished by Rerrkirrwaŋa. Rerrkirrwaŋa was one of the earliest print artists to produce work at Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre. In 2009 she won the Best Bark Painting category in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art awards with a fine work depicting her husband’s clan designs of fire. These iconic works are becoming a signature for her. Her marwat (the handmade brush made from fine straight human hair tied to a stick) is finer than any other painting tool. She has consciously striven for the finest rendition ever achieved in this medium. Characteristically, rather than attending the 2009 award ceremony Rerrkirrwaŋa chose to remain at her son’s dhapi or circumcision ceremony. In 2014 she travelled to Santa Fe in the US for her exhibition at the prestigious Chiaroscuro Gallery. > Download full bio as pdf
Judy was born in Mundubbera, Queensland, in 1959, and lives and works in Brisbane. With Marrnyula Munungurr she is a contributor to the renowned exhibition Djalkiri: We are standing on their names – Blue Mud Bay, formed from a cross-cultural exchange between five highly respected Yithuwa Madarrpa artists and four renowned artists from across Australia. Judy has been a participant in many international contemporary Biennials, including those of Sydney and Venice (Fluent, 1997) and recently was a respondent to the British Museum's ambitious exhibition Indigenous Australia — Enduring Civilisation (British Museum, then National Museum of Australia 2015). Judy was a contributor and keynote speaker for Mother to Daughter at Sydney College of the Arts for the Contemporary Art and Feminism project in 2015. > Download CV as pdf