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Historic Arnhem Land crayon works being shown at Queensland Art Gallery
Mowarra Ganambarr (Australia Datiwuy clan, Dhuwa moiety c1917-2005) Djang'kawu created waterhole on Dätiwuy estate 1947. Lumber crayon and graphite on butchers paper. Collection Ronald M and Catherine H Berndt / © Estate of the artist.

BRISBANE.- Vibrant crayon drawings by senior ceremonial leaders at Yirrkala in Arnhem Land from 1946–47 are on display at the Queensland Art Gallery until July 13, 2014.

'The works were created by senior members of the Yirrkala community when anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt visited the community for research from 1946,' Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Director Chris Saines said.

'Unable to guarantee the safe travel of the bark paintings they had requested of the community, the Berndts provided a new medium – paper and crayons – to the artists.'

'Yirrkala Drawings' presents 81 of the 365 drawings that express the intricacies of northern Australian Yolngu culture, clan relationships and connection to country, now held at the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia.

'Not only are these drawings stunning visual accomplishments in their own right, they represent the artists' mastery of a new medium. The artists seamlessly translated their inherited clan designs from their traditional bark painting to this new, and very different, medium of crayon on paper,' Mr Saines said.

'The resulting bold, dynamic works vary from abstract renditions of geography to figurative representations of important events, a collective cultural mapping deeply embedded with knowledge.'

The drawings document the community's title deeds to land, lay down details of Yolngu law and provide meticulous information on the ancestors that are intimately connected to country and inform being in the present.

'Yirrkala Drawings' is the first major exhibition to include a significant number of the works, with the accompanying catalogue publishing the entire collection.

Mr Saines said the descendants of the artists who worked with the Berndts had actively sought for these drawings to be shown publicly to recognise the achievements of their fathers and grandfathers, who were not only exceptional artists, but cultural leaders and social negotiators.

Minister for the Arts, Ian Walker said he was delighted to see the Gallery hosting an exhibition providing gallery visitors with an insight into one of Australia's unique Indigenous arts communities.

'As part of our Arts for all Queenslanders strategy, the government is committed to increasing cultural tourism, and Indigenous exhibitions such as the distinctive Yirrkala drawings will appeal to both domestic and international visitors,' Mr Walker said.

The Yirrkala artists represented in the exhibition are Birrikitji Gumana, Gumuk Gumana, Liyakarrany Gumana, Mundukul Marawili, Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, Mowarra Ganambarr, Wandjuk Marika, Mawalan Marika, Narritjin Maymuru, Bununggu Yunupingu, Nanyin Maymuru, Mama Mununggurr, Djimbaryun Ngurruwuthun, Wonggu Mununggurr and Bangaliwuy Marrawungu.

Twelve works from the QAGOMA Collection have also been included in the exhibition, all by family members of the original artists.

The exhibition has been organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in collaboration with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala and the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

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