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Miny’tji Buku Larrnggay (Paintings from the East) by various Yolngu artists from Yirrkala

In 1994, the National Gallery of Victoria acquired an important collection of twenty-five large bark paintings from North-East Arnhem Land. These miny’tji (sacred paintings), commissioned from Buku Larrnggay Arts at Yirrkala, were made at a moment of cultural resurgence in the Yirrkala community. The collection constitutes a map of clan lands, and charts the ancestral and ritual connections between freshwater, brackish water and saltwater clans. 

Some of the paintings are by older men who paint in an ‘old style’, some are by clan leaders not usually renowned for their painting skills who were nevertheless determined to present their creation epics for inclusion in the final tableau. Women have also been active in this project. 

Paintings by Yolngu artists are made for both cultural and economic reasons. The impetus to pass on clan law to the next generation and to communicate some of its layers of meanings continues unabated in the Yirrkala community.

Judith Ryan