AN ART movement that is striking, political and enduring – this is what contemporary artists in Maningrida and the surrounding homelands have built, powered by their ancestral connections to Country and djang. Ways of learning and schools of art in Arnhem Land are based around a system of passing knowledge and information onto others. The art here has its genesis in body design, rock art and cultural practices, in concert with more than 50 years of collaborations, travel and political action to retain ownership of Country. Values and law are expressed through language, imagery, manikay (song), bunggul (dance), doloppo bim (bark painting), sculptures, and kun-madj (weaving) – the arts. The artists’ transformation of djang into contemporary artistic expression has intrigued people around the world: art curators and collectors, and stars including Yoko Ono, Jane Campion, David Attenborough and Elton John. Pablo Picasso said of Yirawala’s paintings, “This is what I’ve been trying to achieve all my life.”
Yirawala (c.1897–1976) was a legendary Kuninjku leader, artist, land-rights activist and teacher, and his artwork was the first of any Indigenous artist to be collected by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra as part of a policy to represent in depth the most significant figures in Australian art. Maningrida Arts & Culture is based on Kunibídji country in Arnhem Land. The area encompasses 7,000 square kilometres of land and sea, and over 100 clan estates, where people speak more than 12 distinct languages. Aboriginal people in this region are still on Country, surviving and resilient because their Country is the centre of their culture – their djang. Artists’ works from the larger Maningrida region can be seen in collections and institutions around the world. The Centre works with museums, contemporary galleries and high-end retailers both nationally and internationally on projects throughout the year.
Image: Paul Nabulumo at Yikarrakkal Outstation, 2020. Photo: Chloe Gibbon. Courtesy: Maningrida Arts & Culture.