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Yolngu Science: Objects and representations from Ramingining, Arnhem Land

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


02 Mar 2000 to 15 May 2000

Curators: Djon Mundine & Linda Michael

About the Exhibition

Yolngu Science: Objects and Representations from Ramingining, Arnhem Land was a major exhibition of more than 150 works from the MCA Collection by Aboriginal artists from Ramingining and other north-east Arnhem Land communities. Organised according to the Yolgnu (Aboriginal) system of classifying the natural world, the exhibition was divided into 13 categories including: Warrakan (edible meat, land animals, birds); Wetji (furred animals); Guya (bony fish); Miyapuna (sea animals); and Dharpa (woody trees, grasses).

Yolngu Science featured two works commissioned for the exhibition. Micky Dorrng painted the walls of one gallery with his Djirrdidi (kingfisher body design). This sacred design is normally painted on the bodies of participants and sacred objects in religious rituals as part of the Djan’kawu Sisters story. Matjuwi created a sand sculpture of Wuymirri (the whale spirit), using four tonnes of sand. The sculpture, normally used in a post-funeral cleansing ritual, also referenced a sand sculpture created by senior artist Jimmy Wululu on the front lawn of the MCA for the opening of The Native Born in 1996.

The exhibition included a rich variety of bark paintings, sculptures and objects which conveyed an approach to dealing with the natural world that has been transmitted for generations through the integrated art forms of song, dance, carving and painting. Each work was closely bound up with the inherited histories and social structures that define Aboriginal culture and its intricate kinship system.

The clearly delineated categorisation of works highlighted the subtleties of variation in representation. This was obvious between members of different clans but was also evident between artists of the same clan group.

This was the second major exhibition drawn from the MCA’s extensive collection of art from Raminginging, Arnhem Land. The first, The Native Born: Objects and Representations from Raminginging, Arnhem Land, was also curated by Djon Mundine, and in the course of this exhibition a major catalogue, Native Born: Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Raminginging Australia was published to coincide with an international tour of The Native Born.