Joe Dhamanydji is the youngest son of renowned artist and Gupapuyŋu cultural leader Tom Djäwa. Djäwa was at the forefront of the contemporary art movement that burst out of Milingimbi in the 1950’s. Yurrwi is Djäwa’s märi (mother’s mother) ancestral country and a ceremonial meeting ground for his paternal Gupapuyŋu clan. Djäwa’s homeland is on the mainland at Djiliwirri, east of Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island). In the 1920’s, Djäwa and a Wangurri man named Harry Makarrwala lead their people through the transition of the establishment of the Mission. Djäwa was the voice of the community at the Village Council meetings and was elected Chairperson. Two Yolŋu interpreters, Burrumarra, a Warramiri man and Barraltja, a Wangurri man, interpreted between Djäwa and Mission staff so that they could communicate.
Dhamanydji remembers sitting at the camp fire with his father and other family and children. Here, Djäwa would often share the story of the time that he travelled to Toowoomba to meet Queen Elizabeth and perform buŋgul (ceremony) with his fellow Gupapuyŋu clanspeople.
Dhamanydji attended the mission school and grew up at Yurrwi. As a school age boy he watched Gupapuyngu and their yindipulu (the extended family of his patrilineal clan) including senior Liyagawumirr, Liyagalawumirr, Djambapuyŋu and Djinaŋ’, Warramiri, Manydjikay, Wobulkarra and Murruŋun make their master ochre-on-bark artworks under the shade of the tamarind trees at Ŋarawunhdhu (bottom camp).
Dhamanydji continues to live in Yurrwi and to uphold his Gupapuyŋu Law through Gamunuŋgu (painting), Manikay (song) and Buŋgul (ceremony). He is a senior leader for his Gupapuyŋu clan.
Dhamanydji was taught to paint his Gupapuyŋu clan miny’tji (designs) by his older brother, Dr. Joe Gumbula, he also has permission to paint some designs belonging to other clans. He was also inspired by his brother’s work as a researcher and academic. Since becoming a recognised contemporary artist Dhamanydji’s artworks have been collected by institutions including the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He is respected for his extensive knowledge of his Gupapuyngu miny’tji and that of other related clans. He has contributed much valued cultural knowledge to a number of national collections, including; Berndt Museum (University of Western Australia, Perth), Macleay Museum (University of Sydney), Art Gallery of NSW (Sydney), Museum Victoria (Melbourne) and the National Museum of Australia (Canberra).
Many of my fathers and other old people’s paintings have been kept in the museum for a long, long time. We need to find these paintings because many have been mixed up with different names. I worry if we don’t put the right name and clan, the connections between the people and stories won’t make sense in the future.
My brother Dr Joe Gumbula was a researcher at many universities and museums. He picked me and my brothers Michael Muŋguḻa and George Milaypuma to work with him. We haven’t lost our miny’tji because we are still making them at the art centre and for ceremony in Milingimbi.
I have travelled to museums in Darwin, Sydney, Canberra, Queensland, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. And still there is a lot of work to do to make sure meaning is not lost.” – Dhamanydji, 2019