With only two days left until we launch our first ever bark show, Top End Bugi, we are delighted to introduce you to the final collaborating art centre, Maningrida Arts and Culture. Top End Bugi is a collaborative exhibition featuring bark art from three art centres in Australia’s Top End, Buku-Larrngay Mulka Centre, Maningrida Arts and Culture, and Ngukurr Arts Centre opening on the 19th of September.
Maningrida Arts and Culture is a Top End art centre spanning over 7,000 square kilometres across Kunibidji country. The artists live on country and despite being split across 100 clan estates and more than 12 distinct language groups, they are united through their connection to djang. Djang refers to the ongoing, eternal, life-giving transformative power that accounts for every aspect of existence.Artists from the region channel djang to inspire and create their work. This is particularly clear through their artworks which speak to the artists connection to the creation ancestor as well as spiritual stories around country.
Maningrida has a reputation for creating striking works which captivate the viewer. The art centre has received international acclaim for the artists' powerful articulation of their connection to country, spirituality and political activism. Doloppo bim (bark painting) are a traditional artistic practice to Maningrida. One of their most famous artists, Yirawala (c.1897-1976) was a legendary Kuninjku leader, land-rights activist and teacher. His work was the first of an Indigenous artist to be collected by the National Gallery of Australia, and is still on exhibition today.
The ways of learning and schools of art in Arnhem Land are based around a system of passing knowledge and information on to others. Through this oral tradition, today's artists from Maningrida have beautifully encapsulated traditional values and imagery passed down through generations of artists through their own contemporary lens. Although there are male bark artists in Maningrida, they chose to only select works by female artists for this exhibition. So not only do sales go back into the community, but to empower female artists through their art!
Just like the other art centers, Buku and Ngukurr, Maningrida extracts bark after the wet season. The first step is to strip the Stringybark tree, then cure it by a fire, finally it must be weighed down and left to dry. Not only is this exhibition a vibrant articulation of artistic expression, latent in cultural stories, but by using bark as their medium, every element of the exhibition is hand-made and prepared by the artists. A very beautiful and resourceful way to create.
Apphia Wurrkidji is a contemporary artist from Maningrida who fostered her love for art and technique by learning from her father, James Iyuna and mother, Melba Gunjarrwanga. However, Apphia has created her own distinct style through her intricate use of fine brush strokes and strong use of imagery and compositional shapes. Her language group is Kuninjku, and she proudly expresses her culture and key djang sites from clan lands through her art. She enjoys painting sites such as the Dilebang (waterhole), Wak Wak (Black Crow) at Kurrurldul and Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent).
Eugenie Bonson has learnt the traditional West Arnhem style of painting called Rarrk as well as production methods involved in extracting the bark and ochre for painting from her mother. The two of them, Delia Juburri and Eugenie are commonly referred to as a duo who often collaborate on works. Even though she learned all her artistic skills from her mother, Eugenie’s country is the same as her Father’s, Barrinhdjowkkeng. She draws inspiration from this country when painting, and often depicts plant life around it.
Gloreen Campion is from Malnyangarnak and speaks the Rembarrnga language. She is a nationally acclaimed artist, with works in the Museum of Victoria as well as featuring in over eight exhibitions since 2011. Her work spans many forms, from sculpture to Doloppo bim (bark painting). Her bark art often explores themes of spirituality and connection to creation stories such as Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent). Her art has the ability to inspire feelings of reverence as well as joviality through her vibrant use of colour imagery.
Matilda Pascoe is a well renowned sculptor and bark painter who has featured across numerous exhibitions, with works permanently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. She is a member of the Warrawarra clan whose lands lie on Burarra country to the east of the Blyth Ruver. Her works often speak to spirit beings, plants and animals for which she is a custodian (Traditional Owner), including Warraburnburn (ghost’sds spirit), baru (crocodile), jarlambu (catfish), gorraporda (cormorant) and banaka (digging stick). Matilda learned under the guidance of her late husband Jimmy Angunguna, an important bark painter and sculptor whose works were included in Metamorphosis at the Venice Biennale in 1997.
Melba Gunjarrwanga is a Kuninjku artist whose work spans many mediums from printmaking, sculpture, weaving and bark painting. She was born in 1959 in Maningrida and over the last decade her works have been recognised both nationally and internationally in exhibitions and gallery spaces. She is represented by both the Babbara Women’s Centre and Maningrida Arts and Culture. She often depicts sacred stories and sites through her intricate strokes and vibrant colours. Her works are a thing to be marvelled at, and humbled by.