Over 8 months we worked together with staff from the Musée du quai Branly, Paris. We curated an exhibition of a selection of artworks from Milingimbi held within their collection and shared our knowledge that is tied to each work. The bark paintings and sculptures that now feature in the Gapu Gularri Yothu Yindi exhibition were collected in the 1960s by Czech-born artist Karel Kupka. Gapu, water, was the curatorial focus of the exhibition. It is our hope that people visiting the exhibition will gain insight into our worldview and relationship to our environment. Below is some of the text developed for the exhibition and further curatorial information. We worked with our linguist to share our knowledge in Djambarpuŋu language that was then translated into English and French.
An introduction to Gapu
by Joe Dhamanydji
We have two kinds of water, Dhuwa and Yirritja, freshwater and saltwater, in every place. There are two kinds of saltwater, Dhuwa and Yirritja, and two kinds of freshwater, Dhuwa and Yirritja. In Dhuwa places, two bodies of saltwater might relate as mother-child. In this way, Dhuwa and Yirritja waters meet as mother-child. Waters can relate as grandparent-grandchild as well. Or you might see mother-child waters.
In addition we see water in woḻma, thunderclouds, that tells us of rain. Woḻma is Dhuwa. Then we think, the woḻma is bringing lots of water, for people, animals and for fruit. It will make all the fruit grow, so that animals won’t die, in the sea or on the land.
Freshwater is good to drink – for people and for animals. It’s also wonderful for bush food, so that it can grow. Rain also makes food ripen, and when the rain comes it tells us it’s a good time for bush food and seafood.
Water was given to us by the Waŋarr. They separated the saltwater and freshwater. Dhuwa and Yirritja clan alliances are inherent in the saltwater and the freshwater.
The waters have names, not just one name.
by George Milaypuma
Guḻarri ŋayi Yirritja gapu. Ḏamurruŋ’ ŋayi, ga raypiny.
Yäna dhiyak Guḻarriwa dhäwuw ga ŋorra.
Ga dhiyak ŋarrany marŋgi.
Ganbaḻtji’ŋur waṉḏin ga gapu Guḻarri waṉḏin gaaaan, dhiyal ŋayi bunan Miliway.
Ga wiripu Dhuwali bäpurru Guḻarrimirr mala Bangi Dhuwal Bariŋur,
ga Guyamirrilil Dhuwal Warrawurrŋur
ga ŋunha bala nhawiŋur Ganalbiŋu mala,
bili gapu Guḻarri waṉḏin ŋulaŋur Ganalbiŋu
ga djuḻkthurr ŋayi Ritharrŋuwal,
ga djutjtjutj bala ŋayi waṉḏiny Guḻarriny
ga ŋayathaŋal ŋayi wäŋa Bariŋur Bandji Ŋawurrmirri.
Ga dhiyal ŋayi ga ŋunhili ŋayi Bandji yarrupthurrnha bala Mururrku gapu ŋayi ŋupar.
Ga dhiyalidhi ŋayi gapu dhawaṯthurr Mururrku Binyinmarra,
Wobulukarra yolŋu Ḻaŋarraŋur. Wobulkarra gapu ŋunhi.
Ga ŋunhi Guḻarri ŋayi Dhuwalidhi nhawikala Mururrku walalaŋgu warrpam’ku Dhuwali Guḻarrimirri mala walalaŋ Guḻarrimirriw malawdja.
Dhiyali ŋayi rrambaŋiny waṉḏin gapu ga ḏamurruŋdhinan.
Bala ŋayi ḏamurruŋ’ dhawaṯthurrdja, ḏamurruŋnha ŋayi.
Bili walalanydja ŋunhi ga walalaŋ raypinybuy Guḻarri.
Dhuwali ŋunhi Guḻarripuy dhäwu Dhuwalaŋuwuy.
Guḻarri are Yirritja waters. They are saltwater, and freshwater.
This is a story about Guḻarri.
And this is what I know.
The Guḻarri waters travelled all the way from Ganbaḻtji to Miliway.
And other Guḻarri clans are Bangi at Bariŋur,
and Guyamirrilil at Warrawurrŋur
and over there, the Ganalbiŋu people
because the water ran from Ganalbiŋu [country]
and passed through Ritharrŋu [country]
and the Guḻarri kept going
and reached the place Bariŋur Bandji Ŋawurrmirri.
And here it travelled down from Bandji to Mururrku (Miliway), following the songline.
Here the water comes out, at Mururrku Binyinmarra,
[of] the Wobulkarra people at Ḻaŋarra. It is Wobulkarra water there.
And the Guḻarri there at Mururrku is everyone’s water, all the Guḻarri people – the people who belong to Guḻarri.
The waters run together there and become salty.
Then it flows out [into the sea] as saltwater.
Because their Guḻarri is freshwater.
That’s the Guḻarri story from here [from this side].
How the Guḻarri Gapu Yothu Yindi exhibition came to be
By Jessica De Largy Healy and Nicolas Garnier
Guḻarri is the name of the Yirritja waters that flow over the lands of several clans from the center of Arnhem Land. The Guḻarri waters then join together and flow into the sea, where the water course takes it to the shores of Milingimbi. The flow of the Guḻarri water connects these clans through kinship that extends to their territories. The phrase yothu yindi, mother and child, defines the fundamental coexistence of two moieties making up the cosmos and Yolŋu society: Dhuwa and Yirritja.
The exhibition emphasises the ways Yolŋu on Milingimbi Island depict their aquatic territories and the intricate ecology of these environments where human and non-human activities have co-existed for millennia. It unveils the importance of representations tied to water, from the high seas to humid coastal areas and mangrove zones, by way of freshwater ecosystems. With a selection of works chosen by the artists’ descendants and poetic tales collected for the exhibition, Yolŋu reveal the complex cartography of their landscape which unites places and ancestors, mythical events, ways of dwelling, land rights, and kinships.
This exhibition has been created with the community’s art and culture centre and aims to present contemporary Yolŋu views on works created by their forebears at the turn of the 1960s. These works derive from ancient artistic traditions passed down within different clans. The exhibition features several conventions: the separation between two moieties, Dhuwa, in red, and Yirritja, in yellow, the grouping of works by clan, as well as the ties between the works, their creators, and those who have earned the authority to discuss them.
The Yolŋu word is favoured to go along with the works. By introducing concepts in their source language, the glossary of main terms invites visitors to leap into the Yolŋu aquatic vision. The films made for this event highlight the multiple attachments to the waterscapes where the young directors build their existence.
The Gapu Gularri Yothu Yindi exhibition includes two experimental films made by Milingimbi emerging filmmakers. We will be sharing more about these films shortly.
Gapu Gularri Yothu Yindi will be on display at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris from Tuesday 22 June to Sunday 26 September 2021
For more information about the exhibition see the Musée du quai Branly website
This exhibition includes miny’tji (clan designs) belonging to Gupapuyŋu Ḏaygurrgurr, Gupapuyŋu Birrkili, Djambarrpuyŋu, Wobulkarra, Liyagawumirr, Ḏurrurrŋa, Murruŋun Wolkpuy, Birritjama, Mildjiŋi and Ganalbiŋu clans.
Curators; Joe Dhamanydji, Ruth Nalmakarra, Jessica De Largy Healy and Nicolas Garnier
Cultural consultants: George Milaypuma, Michael Mungula, Colin Yerrilil, Helen Motiti, Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Margaret Rarru, Helen Milminydjarrk, Raymond Bulambula, David Roy, Gilbert Gubi’yun, Lorrianne Manamana, Trevor Djarragaygay, Matthew Yalanhdhu.
This project would not have been possible without the wuburr’ of Milingimbi Art and Culture staff including; Christopher Durkin, Philippa Jahn and Salome Harris. We also acknowledge the staff at Musée du quai Branly including; Charlotte Hamel and Théo Ciora and thank the below organisations for their support.