Important Fine Art + Aboriginal Art
2 December 2015


(c.1945 – 2012)

natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

166.0 x 81.0 cm

$10,000 – 15,000
Sold for $10,980 (inc. BP) in Auction 41 - 2 December 2015, Sydney

Commissioned by Buku-Larrngay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne (cat. AK14492)
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Drawing from traditional Yolngu stories about the Milky Way, Yunupingu extended these ancestoral dreamings into the realms of her own imagination. Yunupingu painted the sky, the stars, the galaxy, the universe (Garak) at large. While her contemporaries were producing images of their daily lives and experiences – maps, calendars, events – Yunupingu weaved a much grander and more abstract narrative. Her paintings attempt to encompass the entire universe, all that can be seen by eye, and everything that exists beyond our means of perception, the known and unknown, the imaginable and the unimaginable, everything that has lived and died or is yet to come into being; the past, the present, and the future.

Through a poetic use of traditional rarrking (crosshatching) Yunupingu creates glowing, swarming constellation of stars. With extraordinary detail and complexity, she paints a network of crossed and overlapping shapes that create a sense of the magnitude of the galaxy. Her dense layering of shapes in varying tones of brown and yellow ochre produces a depth enhanced through the application of white outlines. If we stand back from the magnetism of this swelling cosmos, this optical illusion, we see only the enchantment of the Gan’yu (Stars).

Gulumbu Yunupingu was born into a family of tremendous influence and esteem. A member of the highly respected Yunupingu dynasty of North East Arnhem Land, Gulumbu’s father, Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, was a clan leader and artist, her brother Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM, was a leader and activist, while her other brother Mandawuy Yunupingu was a musician and educator.

Up to the age of 56, Gulumbu Yunupingu had enjoyed a busy life as a mother, teacher’s aide, health worker, and translator of the Bible into her first language, Gumatj, but she was virtually unknown in the art world. From 2002 until her death in 2012 at age 66, Yunupingu grew to become one of the most revered Indigenous artists in Australia.

In the brief decade in which she painted, Yunupingu’s achievements abounded, from her first solo show at Alcaston Gallery in 2004 to a permanent artwork at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and appearances at the Hannover World Expo and the Melbourne Art Fair. Her larrikitj (funeral poles) were included in the Kerry Stokes Larrakitj collection, and she won first prize in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2004. In 2012 a large display of her barks and larrikitj appeared in the exhibition Marking Time at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Buku-Larrngay Mulka, Yirrkala, Northern Territory.