Friday, August 9, 2019 (CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA) — The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) has announced that Yolngu artist Djambawa Marawili AM won a prestigious national art award for a bark painting commissioned by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.
The painting in natural pigments on eucalyptus bark, titled Journey to America, depicts Marawili’s clan design connecting the Coat of Arms of Australia with the Statue of Liberty. Kluge-Ruhe commissioned a painting by Marawili for its upcoming exhibition Madayin: Eight Decades of Aboriginal Australian Bark Painting from Yirrkala. According to Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith, the resulting painting deviates from Marawili’s past work in surprising ways. Smith explains, “This astonishing painting symbolizes Marawili’s experience visiting the United States and the historical and contemporary connections that Yolngu people have created overseas through their art.”
Marawili undertook an artist residency at Kluge-Ruhe in 2015, during which time he examined Yolngu bark paintings in the collection and at the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. Seeing designs related to sacred knowledge (madayin) in bark paintings at these museums ignited his desire to work with Kluge-Ruhe to develop a major exhibition of Yolngu bark paintings spanning eight decades. He said, “I came to America and I found my madayin, and now I want to share it with the world.”
To develop this exhibition, Marawili and other Yolngu artists and knowledge holders have returned to Kluge-Ruhe repeatedly beginning in 2017. Curator Henry Skerritt, who has collaborated with Yolngu throughout the project, says, “Djambawa’s award-winning painting is a masterpiece but it is far more than just a beautiful painting. It is a statement about Yolngu ownership over a project that he initiated during his time at Kluge-Ruhe.” While researching works for the exhibition, Kluge-Ruhe has improved documentation of paintings in the museum’s collection and Yolngu have learned about their own art history by accessing historical works. Smith adds, “This type of reciprocal research benefits everyone and exemplifies what we are trying to do every day at Kluge-Ruhe.”
Marawili’s bark painting took the grand prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) in Darwin. An acclaimed artist and principal ceremonial leader of the Madarrpa clan of northeast Arnhem Land, Marawili has pioneered a new aesthetic movement among Yolngu artists. In 1996, he won the Bark Painting category of the Telstra NATSIAA for a work commissioned by John W. Kluge that is part of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection.
Three Yolngu artists who work with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre in Yirrkala, which represents Marawili, were also named winners of various media categories in the NATSIAA: Nonggirrnga Marawili won the Telstra Bark Painting Award for Lightning strikes 2018, Malauba Gumana won the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award for her larrakitj(poles) titled Rainbows in the lilies 2018, and Gutingarra Yunupingu won the Telstra Multimedia Award his video Gurrutu’mi Mala – My connections 2019. This is the second year in a row that Yolngu artists from Buku-Larrnggay have taken four out of seven awards in the NATSIAA.
Djambawa Marawili, Journey to America 2019, natural pigments on eucalyptus bark, 270 x 100 cm.