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Native Title: Yirrkala Bark Paintings

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


16 Sep 1997 to 26 Oct 1997


Batambil Burarrwanga, Manydjarri Ganambarr, Gawirrin Gumana, Djalu Gurruwiwi, Djambawa Marawili, Baluka Maymuru, Naminapu Maymuru, Djutadjutija Mununggurr, Minypia Mununggurr, Dhukal Wirrpanda, Nuwurapu Wunungmurra, Miniyawany

about the exhibition

Native Title brought together the works of 13 artists in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. All the paintings in the exhibition were produced during 1997 in the Miwatj region of Arnhem Land, from natural, locally gathered materials. The barks were all cut from gadayka (stringybark) trees in an area scheduled for deforestation.

‘Native title’ is a phrase recognised under common law in Australia, referring to the legal ownership of a geographical area by the ‘native’ inhabitants of that area. Native title was the term used in the historic Mabo decision by the High Court of Australia to describe the legal rights and interests of Aboriginal Australians, based on the continuity of their traditional beliefs, laws and customs. In this exhibition, ‘native title’ described the relationship between the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land and their traditional land. This relationship is described directly by the sacred designs used in the art of the area.

The exhibition was dedicated to the three elders, Birr’kitji Gumana, Narritjin Maymuru and Wakuthi Marawili, who were instrumental in preserving their peoples’ law, land and culture. Native Title opened with a Yingapungapu ceremony, sung by three clans from the Miwatj region: the Manggalili, the Madarrpa and the Dhalwangu.

The Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre was established in 1975, and in just over two decades developed from an old mission-style building into a large, modern space with three galleries and an extensive keeping place. The Centre acts as a meeting place between cultures and represents the interests of Yolngu artists in the region.

Organised in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Northern Territory.

Native Title was part of the Festival of the Dreaming, the first of four Olympic Arts Festivals and was assisted by ATSIC.