The Cross Art Projects. Artist Exhibition, Debra Phillips, A talker’s echo. 2023

Barrupu Yunupingu / Mulkun Wirrpanda: Fire, Water and Honey — 3 December to 30 January 2010

Barrupu Yunupingu: Fire
Mulkun Wirrpanda: Water & Honey

Curated by Andrew Blake with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre
Exhibition: 3 December to 30 January 2010
January viewing by appointment

Working in Berlin, Sydney and Manila, Maria Cruz is an advocate of a more speculative and socially aware role for art. Oo (yes) will be the first survey of her practice presented in Australia and demonstrates how her ‘work continues to captivate by levitating oppositions and metaphysical conundrums’.

In addition to a selection of paintings produced over the last decade or so, the exhibition includes new works focused on roaring ‘Metro Guapo’ or Handsome Metro Manila (one of the five cities comprising greater Manila).

Recent paintings and installations extend the play with the fluid intelligence of images and use artisanal processes such as batik and hand-cut stencils to reposition Western modernist ideas of image and colour into a proletarian or third world context. For Tansan (Oo) the artist’s family punched out coins from reflective paper as extended signs of abstracted labour.

Such works observe a point in urban life when the experience of the local and public is fading, due in part to mass consumption allied to the pervasive ‘tweeting’ style of intimacy. Coca cola is a translation of shop façades and a social portrait of the makeshift architecture delivered by commerce in a developing economy. Sari-sari are the family shops that are the staple of Manila social life.

Maria Cruz’s humble crafted translations of makeshift family shops show how a regime of multinational styles and political will function as a capitalist cultural logic of urbanism both in Manila and Sydney. While social democratic homilies or urban renewal projects in Manila are warped or adapted by raw need or catastrophe, the product serves the same end: architecture and design that are advertisements.

Elsewhere only an absence is evoked, hidden in forms created or erased by word patterns. In these disorienting meetings, meaning, composition and concept subtly shift. The erasure found in earlier paintings about civic virtues resurfaces in the new video work, Poetry, that replays the idea of the artist at odds with society. As artists recite Charles Bukowski’s poem ‘The Genius of the Crowd’, the narrative structure lays out alternative or heroic communal possibilities that may or may not still exist.

These layers make Maria Cruz’s work unusually potent: her touch is at once blithe and existential, autobiographic and symbolic. At the heart of these beguiling installations is the belief that only individual practice and observation have survived capitalism, remaining as a possibility for a life.

Oo: Selected paintings and projects by Maria Cruz, 1996-2008 was shown at Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila in 2008

Maria Cruz is represented by Kaliman Gallery, Sydney

Barrupu Yunupingu

Barrupu Yunupingu (b. 1948) paints Ancestral Fire: the miny’tji of the Gumatj clan embodying gurtha or fire and place. The diamond design represents fire; the red, flames; the white, smoke or ash; the black, charcoal; the yellow, dust. The structure connects the clans of this sequence of ancestral events.

Barrupu’s chains of rough diamonds resemble paintings by her father Munggurrawuy and his brothers of the 1940s. The totemic significance of fire to the Yunupingu family of the Gumatj clan is paramount; the clan language, Dhuwalandja, is itself the tongue of flame. This language cuts through all artifice. It incinerates dishonesty leaving only the bones of the truth.

Barrupu resides at Yirrkala and worked as a nurse at the Yirrkala Clinic and Hospital from the 1960s until its closure in 1975. Most days Barrupu and her closest sister, Nyapanyapa, use a deck at the Art Centre, on the site of the former clinic, as a studio. Nyapanyapa won the 3-D Award (with a painting and video) at the prestigious Telstra Annual at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in 2007. Barrupu’s work was honoured with a solo exhibition at the Art Centre for 2009 Garma Festival with the National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW acquiring works. Barrupu’s other siblings include Australians of the Year Galarrwuy and Mandawuy Yunupingu and Telstra Award winner Gulumbu Yunupingu.

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre & Museum

This is one of Australia’s premier art centres, known for its integrity and dynamism. It is located in the Aboriginal community of Yirkalla in northeastern Arnhem Land and services twenty-five homeland centres. The renowned artist Djambawa Marawili (Sydney Biennale 2006 and Moscow Biennial 2009) chairs the Centre.


Thanks to Wenona Matthews, project intern.

Northern Territory Intervention

The ‘national emergency’ and moral panic has dragged on with the media and public losing interest. The Government is quietly altering the discourse and the Intervention is now called Closing the Gap Northern Territory. The findings in the latest Government progress report on the Northern Territory Emergency Response Intervention are damning of its effectiveness. Professor Jon Altman from the Australian National University calls the findings ‘extremely disappointing’. The Report shows that violence is up, malnutrition is up and truancy is up.

Altman asks can statistical goals, even if endorsed by COAG, ensure outcomes if not negotiated with the purported subjects. The Productivity Commission raised this question as COAG was signing off on the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (Closing the Gap). The Agreement locks in an approach agreed by the Commonwealth and States and Territories for the next decade, unfortunately decided during an interregnum when there is no national Indigenous representative organisation with whom to negotiate.

The Rudd Government should seriously consider the Productivity Commission’s advice on what works: partnerships, bottom up rather than top down approaches, good governance  including by governments  and sustained support on an equitable needs basis.


Northern Territory Intervention
Jon Altman, Crikey, 9 November 2009. The Report was posted by Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on 22 October 2009.