Arts and Design

The song of the press echoes from remote Australia

Djuwakan#2 Marika, Mari, 2012, Photographic screenprint 21 x 30cm
Djuwakan#2 Marika, Mari, 2012, Photographic screenprint 21 x 30cm

In a remote corner of Arnhem Land sits Yirrkala Print Space, where, for over twenty years, the ancient craft of printmaking has not only survived, but prospered.

A celebratory exhibition of this print space, Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression is presented by the Whitlam Institute and Artback NT in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre. The exhibition of remarkable work by 50 artists will be on show to the public at the Whitlam Institute in Sydney from 9 August to 23 October 2019.

Balnhdhurr is a vibrant acknowledgement of the creative energies, talent and commitment of generations of Yolngu artists who have utilised and pushed the boundaries of such a medium to share significant cultural and historical stories.

“Printmaking is a guild craft and there are very few professional printmakers in the country so it is a surprise that a hotspot of this very technical and demanding skill is in remote Yirrkala in Far East Arnhem Land and has been for twenty years”, said Will Stubbs, co-ordinator of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre.

Louise Partos, Artback NT’s Executive Officer, agreed adding “Balnhdhurr is also an opportunity to celebrate the work of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, one of Australia’s most extraordinarily influential and dynamic art centres dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of Yolngu law and culture”.

Leanne Smith, Director of the Whitlam Institute, said “The Whitlam Institute is delighted to be able to host this extraordinary collection. Gough Whitlam was a strong exponent of Australian art in general, but also specifically of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, having established the Aboriginal Arts Board on 3 May 1973”.

With works from 50 artists, this exhibition includes prints that are historically significant. The Berndt Etchings series talks about the Berndt Crayon Drawings of Yirrkala, produced by the artists’ predecessors in 1947, while String Figure Prints are a response to another archaeological collection from 1948. Pieces in Balnhdhurr also reveal the significant impact the introduction of bright acrylics had on artists, which allowed them to explore a whole new genre of artistic storytelling that became a joyous explosion of colour and expression.

Every print has to be the design of the artist’s own clan or connecting clan. The design has to be done very carefully so as not to mix them up, and to understand their story. We have to talk about it with other people in that clan, so when the design is printed there is no problem. It’s a similar idea to the traditional designs used in the bark paintings and the wood carving, but in printmaking we get the direction from our elders to design the image of the outside story only. In the workshop a lot of Yolngu come and watch what we do in the print studio so they can understand the process. – Marrnyula Mununggurr and Mundul Wunungmurra Mununggurr

Artists from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre will conduct workshops at the Whitlam Institute in September (2019). Open to the public, these workshops will provide a unique opportunity to learn about and participate in the ancient craft of printmaking. There will also be an opportunity to experience cultural exchange and learn more about the exhibition through gallery floor talks.

Balnhdhurr is a coming together of cultures and time, providing an opportunity for a wider audience to recognise the accomplishments of a sustainable, functional and thriving print studio operating in an isolated landscape. Yirrkala Print Space began in 1995 when a purpose built area was designed to host a printing press. With over 800 editions by 137 produced through the studio since then, Yirrkala Print Space has become an integral and vital component of the community.

When: Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression runs from 9 August to 23 October 2019
Official Opening: The exhibition officially opens on Friday 16 August 2019, 6.00pm to 8:00pm – refreshments will be served – this is a free event, but registration is essential: https://bit.ly/2LA35ar
Where: Whitlam Institute, Building EZ, Western Sydney University, Rydalmere

View more of the artwork here:

Source: Western Sydney University

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