Words: Clare G. Coleman

Photography: Merinda Campbell

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin is one of the thriving epicentres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in Australia. No other large institutional gallery on the continent has closer proximity to Aboriginal communities and Art Centres, or to the art made there. It’s surprising therefore that 2020 saw the first solo exhibition by an Aboriginal artist in the nearly 40 years since the gallery was opened in its current location, and more than 55 years since the foundation of the institution as an act of NT parliament.

It is appropriate, however, that the first show feature a Yolŋu woman of singular power. The moment eternal by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu was a retrospective of more than two decades of the artist’s work.

Throughout her long career, Yunupingu’s work has departed from figurativity towards increasing abstraction while her palate, already honed by the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre’s prescription to use ochre, has become further stripped back until many of her barks are mostly white. As many artists find when they reach seniority, simplicity is often the path to more powerful expression

 Yunupingu’s hand makes ochre glow. The artist can, like many of her senior Yolŋu peers, do things with the four pigments available in ochre that defy the imagination. Yunupingu takes it a step further, doing so much with a palate dominated by a single non-colour. The patterned spaciality, the shimmer possible with limited materials and a culture-driven practice, is strongly demonstrated in Yunupingu’s work.

Collectors should look out for Yunupingu’s exhibition at Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery staged in January and February 2021. The artist has repurposed and painted like barks the wood panels that protected the Yirrkala church during its restoration.

They are huge pieces, some 400 by 250 centimetres. Monumental is a generally overused superlative, but in the case of these works and this exhibition, it seems appropriate.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 95, January to March 2021.

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