Working from the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu first exhibited her paintings in 2021 at the age of seventy-two, after caring for her late sister Mrs N Yunupiŋu for many years. She had previously participated in printmaking workshops with her sisters when in 2011 they collectively made the renowned, Seven Sisters suite of prints.
She is the daughter of the late Gumatj leader, activist, and prominent Australian painter Muŋgurrawuy Yunupiŋu (c.1905–1979). Her family are celebrated across literary, artistic, and political fields with her brother, Dr Mandawuy Yunupiŋu, a founding member and lead singer of Yothu Yindi, and her elder brother, Yunupiŋu, recently deceased, a leader in land rights legislation and former Northern Land Council chairman. Her six sisters are all esteemed artists and previous winners of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
Djakaŋu paints on bark using earth pigments and gapan (clay) applied with a small brush called a Marwat, which is a small brush made by hand using fine, straight, human hair. She methodically applies the paint onto the surface of the bark using a technique called rarrk (cross-hatching). Through dedicated practice she has honed and refined this technique.
Tears of the Djulpan illustrates a songline that can be drawn from Arnhem Land through the islands of Southeast Asia to what is now known as Singapore. The story, shared by Djakaŋu’s father, explains that women paddle in their canoe from island to island collecting from the land then lighting their fires. The delicate balance of land, sea and stars must be respected, everything depends on it. If the fires are lit before the women return home to cook their food, they will cry. Djakaŋu paints this rain, falling out of season as tears from the sky, known as gurmalili.
Djakaŋu tells of how she would go to school and then comeback to watch her father paint and listen to the stories of Djulpan. Her father explained to her how the story had been painted for a long time and gave Djakaŋu, and her sisters, permission to start painting different parts of the story.
Buku-larrnggay Mulka Centre
Buku-larrnggay Mulka Centre, is an Aboriginal art centre located in far Northeast Arnhem Land in community of Yirrkala. A multidisciplinary centre providing space and facilities for artists and the broader community of all generations. It houses studio space, workshops, the Mulka digital production space and Yirrkala Print Space. The Mulka Centre is particularly popular with young people who congregate during the school holidays to view footage of their ancestors and Yolŋu cultural practice and ceremony.
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Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu has refined the use of her chosen painting tools and materials to a level of mastery, rarely diverting from her methods. What is your signature style or specialised skill?
- Select a traditional, or non-traditional, mark-making tool. Pencil, charcoal, brush, roller. Manipulate the tool to create a unique adjustment. For example, add some texture to a roller by wrapping in bubble wrap or carving into it if appropriate. Trim the ends of a brush into a new shape, use a file or sandpaper the shape a found stick.
- Explore the ways you can use your tool to make a mark. Repeat to refine and create a mark that is uniquely yours.
- Present your tool and newly acquired skills to the rest of the class through a skills swap session.
Tears of the Djulpan tells a story of Country responding to the intervention and disruption to its natural process. Our natural environment is forever adapting to the way humans interact with its systems. Explore some aspects of change that are occurring in your local and the global climate.
- Research the geography of Arnhem Land. On a map, locate Yirrkala and trace the line from Arnhem Land to Singapore.
- Yolŋu people recognise that the seasons of the Miwatj region vary and cannot be determined by a traditional calendar. Observation and engagement with the environment tell them about the seasons and what is coming. Listen to this interview with Birrkili Gupapuyŋu woman, Brenda Muthamuluwuy to find out how Yolŋu people determine the seasons and the changes that she is witnessing due to climate change. Listen here >>
- How do you experience the seasons? Make a list or collect images and sounds that describe different times of years where you live.
- Can you break the seasons into 4 distinct and equal time frames, or do you see that there are more, or fewer seasons?
- Have you noticed any changes in the weather, plant or animal life in your area during your lifetime? Talk to an older resident in your neighbourhood about their observations on these topics. Discuss what you think may be having an impact on your findings.
- Using information that you have a collected, create a visual and/or audio calendar that takes the viewer through the seasons of your region. Illustrate, animate, record and mix sounds. Do this using hand-drawing or painting techniques, collage, computer aided design.
- Manipulating materials. Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu works primarily on bark which is collected seasonally, left to dry, and flattened before being prepared for painting.
Fact find: What time of year is bark harvested for painting in Arnhem land?
- Create a canvas from materials found in your environment. Some ideas include:
- Unstitch a garment
- Carefully deconstruct a found box
- Hammer or roll a piece of metal
- If you have created an audio calendar, take it further and collaborate with a dance class and choreograph movements to accompany the sounds.
This education resource has been written in collaboration with Sally Lawrey, Tarnanthi Education Officer and Dr. Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs
Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.
AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.