Published in Art Collector, Issue 68, Apr-Jun 2014
Working primarily with barks, larrakitj (ceremonial poles) and yidaki (didgeridoos), Barayuwa Mununggurr paints his mother’s Munyuku clan design. At its heart is a story about the hunting of an ancestral whale in Blue Mud Bay. When the dead whale washed up on the sand its rotting flesh was carved into strips with stone knives and then tossed back into the sea, forming a dangerous reef. The whale’s bones became rocks in the ocean.
Mununggurr’s work appears to capture the point when the strips of whale flesh become the living rhythms of the reef, and also speaks to the way that landforms have accrued significant spiritual and cosmological meaning in Yolngu culture. Bones too are thought of as the essence of a being and in 2013 Mununggurr began to hide the elements of a whale skeleton in his work. Five whale skeletons formed the underlying structure of his entry in last year’s National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. The work was highly commended by the judges and was later acquired by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. His work has also been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia.
Mununggurr has a very fine hand, honed through time spent assisting other artists at the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala in North East Arnhem Land before he became an artist in his own right. Shortly after beginning to paint he was included in the 2008 exhibition Young Guns II at Annandale Galleries in Sydney. It was momentous not just as early recognition of his talent but also because it helped introduce him into a wider circle of artists. At the opening he met the cross disciplinary artist Ruark Lewis. “Ruark has acted as a gentle mentor who has not influenced Barayuwa’s art as much as welcomed him into the fraternity of artists,” says Will Stubbs, the coordinator at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka. The two have exhibited together at Cross Art Projects in Sydney and in 2011 he showed alongside Lewis and Jonathan Jones at Sydney’s Macquarie University Art Gallery. This year he is shortlisted for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual young artist exhibition Primavera.