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The art of the Yirrkala region has been developing an appreciative audience since the township was founded as a mission in 1935. Work from Yirrkala was amongst the earliest commercial Aboriginal art marketed by Methodist Overseas Mission. There is strong evidence to suggest that the art emerging from Yirrkala in the mid 1950s was a catalyst in the non-Aboriginal art world's realisation that Indigenous Australian art is a unique and profound independent art tradition - the equal of any other global form. Further, the artists of Yirrkala were amongst the first Indigenous Australians to recognise the potential use of visual art as a political tool and put this into practice with the now famous Yirrkala Church Panels (on display in our museum) and Yirrkala Bark Petition (currently on display at Parliament House in Canberra) dating from 1963, also the Wuki[i Installation in The NT Supreme Court, Darwin and the Saltwater Collection in the Australian National Maritime Museum.
When government policy shifted and self-determination came to communities in Arnhem Land, the artists saw the establishment of a community controlled art centre as critically important to further their economic independence, cultural security over sacred designs, and to maintain political and intellectual sovereignty.
Yolngu culture is based on a strong sense of connection to land and sea. Yirrkala is ancestral land belonging to the Rirratjingu/Gumatj clans. Yolngu have traded and intermarried with Macassans since c.1100-1600 AD. In 1935 when the Federal Government was considering a 'punitive expedition' (massacre) against the Yolngu, Mawalan Marika invited the missionary Wilbur Chaseling to establish a mission at Yirrkala.
In the following years the leadership of the Yolngu resisted their dispossession by: government; missionaries; potential Japanese invasion; and Bauxite miners. In addition to the Yirrkala Church Panels and Yirrkala Bark Petition, they have used their art to assert their connection to land in; the Gove Land Rights Case; the Woodward Royal Commission; the Barunga Statement,; the Yirrkala Homeland Movement; the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976; the Both Ways education bilingual curriculum; and the world renowned contemporary music band Yothu Yindi. In recent years the Garma Festival and Wukidi Larrakitj Installations have used miny'tji to continue to rebut the myth of 'Terra Nullius' (that Australia was 'unoccupied country' before colonisation).
Under Yolngu Law the 'Land' extends to include sea. Both land and sea are connected in a single cycle of life for which the Yolngu hold the songs and designs. To demonstrate their rights and responsibilities over specific areas of both coast and sea and to protect those same marine environments from abuse by outsiders the landowners combined to make the Saltwater Collection of Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country in 1997. The Collection of 80 bark paintings made by 47 Yolngu artists is featured in a publication of the same name.
After a national tour (1998-2001) the Saltwater Collection is now held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. It formed part of the Yolngu legal case for recognition of these rights. After a lengthy court case which went through every level of the court system the High Court determined in 2008 that the Yolngu were the owners of sea estates covering Aboriginal land.http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/land/blue-mud-bay-high-court-decision.html
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre
Buku-Larrnggay –“the feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun (i.e. facing East)”
Mulka –“ a sacred but public ceremony.”
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Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the northeastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolngu (Aboriginal) staff of around twenty services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km (Map).
In the 1960's, Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre's main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolngu-owned business to sell Yolngu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that exhibits and sells globally.
In 1976, the Yolngu artists established ‘Buku-Larrnggay Arts’ in the old Mission health centre as an act of self-determination coinciding with the withdrawal of the Methodist Overseas Mission and the Land Rights and Homeland movements.
In 1988, a new Museum was built with a Bicentennary grant and this houses a collection of works put together in the 1970’s illustrating clan law and also the Message Sticks from 1935 and the Yirrkala Church Panels from 1963.
In 1996, a screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces was added to the space to provide a range of different mediums to explore.
In 2007, The Mulka Project was added which houses and displays a collection of tens of thousands of historical images and films as well as creating new digital product.
Still on the same site but in a greatly expanded premises Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre now consists of two divisions; the Yirrkala Art Centre which represents Yolngu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the Museum.
- 1994 NATSIAA Dundiwuy Wanambi Best Bark
- 1995 NATSIAA Yananymul Mununggurr Best bark
- 1996 NATSIAA Djambawa Marawili Best Bark
- 1996 NATSIAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Best Work on Paper
- 1997 NATSIAA Yanggarriny Wunungmurra First Prize
- 1997 NATSIAA Djutjadjutja Mununggurr Best Bark
- 1998 NATSIAA Wukun Wanambi Best Bark
- 1998 NIHAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Runner up
- 2000 NIHAA Wolpa Wanambi First Prize
- 2002 NATSIAA Gawirrin Gumana First Prize
- 2003 NATSIAA Galuma Maymuru Best Bark
- 2004 NATSIAA Gulumbu Yunupingu First Prize
- 2005 NATSIAA Banduk Marika Best Bark
- 2005 NATSIAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Best 3D Work
- 2006 NATSIAA Baluka Maymuru Best 3D Work
- 2006 Vibe Magazine Deadliest Visual Artist of the Year Gulumbu Yunupingu
- 2008 TOGART Contemporary Art Award Djirrirra Wunungmurra First Prize
- 2008 Xtrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award Gunybi Ganambarr First Prize
- 2008 NATSIAA Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (& the Mulka Project) Best 3D Work
- 2009 NATSIAA Rerrkirrwanga Mununngurr Best Bark
- 2010 NATSIAA Wukun Wanambi Best 3D Work
- 2010 NATSIAA Nawurapu Wunungmurra New Media Prize
(NATSIAA- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award NIHAA-National Indigenous Heritage Art Award)
The Yolngu people are all capable and entitled to express their sacred identity through art. The artists who work through the Centre are men and women of all ages. The art and craft of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka is drawn from Yirrkala and the approximately 25 homeland centres within a radius of 200km.
The major clans of the Miwatj are; Gumatj, Rirratjingu, Djapu, Manggalili, Marrakulu, Madarrpa, Gälpu, Dhalwangu, Dätiwuy, Ngaymil, Djarrwark, Djambarrpuyngu, Wangurri, Warramiri, Dhudi-Djapu, Gupapuyngu and Munyuku.
The art centre is open 8 am - 4.30 pm, Monday - Friday. And 9 am - noon, on Saturday. Entrance to the Museum section is by donation.
The community is Aboriginal land but no permit is required to visit the Art Centre from the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy or the local Gove Airport (which has two daily flights on the Darwin-Cairns run by QANTAS as well as Air North from Darwin and Groote Eylandt).
Permission from the Northern Land Council(08 8920 5100) is required to drive here from Darwin or Katherine (approximately ten hours). The road is impassable in the Wet Season (from Dec-May).
Yirrkala is a dry area where alcohol is forbidden without a permit. There are two hotels in the vicinity, the Walkabout Lodgeand the Gove Peninsula Motel, and several hire car firms including Manny’s Car Rentals (08) 89872300 Gove Rentals (08) 89871700 and Nhulunbuy Ute Hire (08) 89872872.
Camping is available in designated areas administered by Dhimurru Land Management(08 8987 3992).
Culture and Environment
Yolngu worldview sees everyspecies of plant, animal, fish, bird or any place or person as belonging to one of the two balancing halves of the world (moieties); Yirritja or Dhuwa.
The sacred art of this region details the spiritual forces behind the ongoing Creation and continuing identity of the fresh and saltwater country of the Miwatj region - a very special part of Australia.
The coastline and hinterland are largely unspoilt and still managed by the traditional owners, the Yolngu. The ecosystems of both the land and sea are pristine and provide abundant food subject to the season including yams, fruits, fish, kangaroo, wallaby, turtles and their eggs, dugong, emu, crayfish, oysters, mussels, tortoise, stingray, honey and more.
The foods and the land that supports them are a seamless part of the wholistic Creation celebrated and maintained by almost continuous ceremonial activity. There is a constant interplay between the Law, the Land, the art of the Yolngu, their ceremony and lifestyle.