PRIOR to 1970, no Yolu woman painted sacred themes on bark or larrakitj. But in recent decades, talented female artists have been defying tradition and the results can be seen in a new exhibition.
Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala opened at the National Gallery of Victoria International on December 17 and will be on exhibition until April 25.
The gallery has been acquiring important works by artists from Yolu-run art centre Buku Larrngay Mulka Centre (Buku), for more than two decades.
Buku is located in the small Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, in north-east Arnhem Land, about 700km east of Darwin.
According to Buku staff, under Yolu Law the "land" extends to include sea. Both land and sea are connected in a single cycle of life, which is celebrated through the Yolu people's songs, art and sacred designs.
The first gallery space will feature significant work by sisters Nancy Gaymala, Gulumbu, Barrupu, Ms N Yunupiu and Eunice Djerrku Yunupiu. Artworks explore Yolu conceptions of the universe, fire and creation, along with more contemporary paintings exploring rhythm, tonality and gesture.
In the second gallery space, visitors will encounter works by Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Malaluba Gumana, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Nogirra Marawili and Dhambit Munugurr, as well as the last produced paintings by master painter Ms Wirrpanda.
The exhibition will also feature a newly commissioned large-scale floor-based work by Naminapu Maymuru-White depicting Miliyawuy, also known as the Milky Way.
Another highlight will be three recently acquired bark paintings by Eunice Djerrku Yunupiu.
Gallery director Tony Ellwood said the exhibition was a great showcase of the gallery's artworks on bark.
"The exhibition brings together some of Australia's great singular master painters," he said.
"We are extremely grateful to each of these artists for sharing their important and sacred stories with Melbourne audiences."
NGV International, in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, is open 10am-5pm daily. Entry is free.
The exhibition will also open during the NGV Friday Nights series.
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