ABORIGINAL ART & CULTURE

Nyapanyapa

The last time we saw Nyapanyapa was at her sell out exhibition 'In Sydney again' at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in the very beautiful inner Sydney suburb of Paddington. That was almost four years ago.

“She is a ceremonial woman and a battler without material possession, she embodies uncomplaining humble persistence in her gentle subsistence lifestyle”

Nyapanyapa at the print workshop, Victorian College of the Arts

Paddington is a very long way from Nyapanyapa’s home in Eastern Arnhem Land. On that occasion her exhibition was a series of bark paintings telling the story of her experiences from a visit to Sydney and of her life in Arnhem Land, two very different worlds.

We meet again in a chilly and wintry Melbourne.

The law of her people, the Yolngu, recognises that the land and the sea are connected in a single cycle of life. If we think of the world in terms of knowledge hotspots and the contribution of certain rare places on earth to the knowledge held by humanity, in the western context we think of Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford and Berkeley and so on. In the Indigenous world Arnhem Land is also a repository of human knowledge and culture that stands as an equal to those places of the west.

Her art centre at Yirrkala describes Nyapanyapa:

“She is a ceremonial woman and a battler without material possession, she embodies uncomplaining humble persistence in her gentle subsistence lifestyle”

Nyapanyapa comes from a talented and distinguished family, she is the sister of two Australian’s of the year. Each year one Australian citizen, since the award was introduced in 1960, is selected to be the Australian of the Year, so there have not been many Australian's of the year.

Bark paintings by the great Aboriginal artists of Arnhem Land are masterpieces of art which document the spiritual, cultural and life world of the region's artists. The Yirrkala community are masters of bark painting techniques. For Nyapanyapa her barks tell us personal stories, one of my favourite works, now in the National Gallery of Victoria, tells the story of Nyapanyapa being attacked and badly gored by a buffalo at Mutpi some 40 years ago, injuries severe enough to have required her medical evacuation to Darwin.

Nyapanyapa's bark paintings are bold and vigorous and contemporary. The methods of painting and the media are traditional. Painted with a brush of human hair onto bark. Making art of different kinds is a constant process and is a central theme of Nyapanyapa’s traditional life.

It was great to see Nyapanyapa in Melbourne where the weather must have seemed startlingly cold. We meet up at the National Gallery of Victoria to see the ‘unveiling’ of Nyapanyapa’s Light Painting. A work painted on clear acetate and illuminated from the rear. There are a number of works by Nyapanyapa in the gallery and she shares this space with her now deceased classificactory sister, her sister's works based on stars, are a powerful way to remember our friend.

Happily we are going to spend the next few days filming Nyapanyapa in the print workshop at the Victorian College of the Arts. She is accompanied on this trip by Yirrkala Art Centre manager Kade McDonald. In the print workshop Nyapanyapa paints the first colour of her print onto a lithographic limestone which is over 100 years old, subsequent colours are painted onto acetate.

Over the next few days skilled printmaker Adrian Kellett works with Nyapanyapa to complete the series of prints.

The film Nyapanyapa: The constant artist is now complete.

SUBJECT: Aboriginal art / Bark paintings / Printmaking / Arnhem Land / Yolngu