From July 6th – 29th, 2023 Michael Reid Sydney will exhibit Mundhurr- The Gift, a comprehensive collection of new work by Gaypalani Wanambi, Muluymuluy Wirrpanda and Djurrayun Murrinyina, three female artists shaping the next generation of Yolŋu artistic practice.
There are no words for ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ in the Yolŋu tongue. At first this raises so many questions. Is there no gratitude in this society? Are there no manners? Is there such paucity of expression in the language? Are they just rude!?
The answer to these questions is surprising. It stems from a fundamental philosophical foundation in Yolŋu life. These terms are unnecessary; Everyone is so connected as one family that the flow of resources between people is unremarkable and treated as a given. If I need something it is mine, whoever has it will freely give it without the need for a thank you. After a while in this society the sense of rudeness dissolves and it becomes relaxing to exchange things without the power relationship in the transaction needing to be acknowledged.
But what then is the meaning of a gift in such a place? How can there be a gift if goods being exchanged is as of right? In the sacred and ceremonial realm there is a different dynamic. The ritual exchange of sacred objects, knowledge or ceremonies is a foundational element of Yolŋu social cohesion. And in the context of this exhibition that is what is being witnessed. Each of these artists are the recipients of a sacred gift of knowledge and identity which they have shared here.
To discuss works of art in this exhibition please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gaypalani Wanambi‘s father Mr. W. Wanambi made sure that she was a major part of his highly successful career from when she was young. He tutored her in her law and encouraged her to paint in her own right as well as assisting him in his work. After his death out of respect for him she eschewed the themes of spirit fish in the waters of Trial Bay and instead describes the journeys of the ancestral honey hunter and the bees hiding in hollows in the stringybark.
Muluymuluy Wirrpanda was a loyal and constant sister to Ms. M. Wirrpanda. They painted together side by side at the art centre. As the elder sister explored an innovative string of genres Muluymuluy was a companion artist riffing on the topics of native Australian vegetables, fruit and shellfish. Never copying but always harmonising. This has continued after the loss of her sister as she honours the gift of that time they had together.
Following the loss of her mother Djurrayun Murrinyina stopped painting the lillies of Garrimala which had made Ms. M. Gumana famous. This convention is part of the disciplines of spiritual hygiene which are so crucial to Yolŋu mortuary customs. Anything which impedes the progress of the departing spirit is forbidden. Nothing can be done which would endanger the eventual return of that soul back to the family of the living. But the gift of intricate colour mixing and fine cross hatching which Djurrayun received from her mother is very much in play.
For those of us who believe in such things; we owe the departed donors a sincere thank you for passing on their inspiration to a new generation of talented Yolŋu artists.