'Garak I (The Universe)' 2004
© Gulumbu Yunupingu
Gulumbu Yunupingu's source of inspiration for Garak, the Universe and Garak I, which at first glance appears to be a literal representation of the Milky Way, is an important customary and ancestral story, particularly for the Yolngu people of North-East Arnhem Land, where the artist lives and works. However, Yunupingu has stated that her art is about the entire universe, all of the stars that can be seen by the naked eye and everything that exists far beyond any scientific expedition or estimation. She shares this approach with the late Anmatyerr artist Emily Kam Kngwarray, who made the emphatic statement that her work was alwey (the whole lot): everything that can be imagined, and all that is beyond the imagination. Garak, the Universe is an impressive larrikitj (hollow funeral pole), and is masterful in scale and in the lyrical way the artist has followed the form and surface structure of the trunk, using similar tones to catch the light on the log's contours, mirroring the changes in density of the Milky Way.
Yunupingu's style is unlike the majority of North-East Arnhem Land art, which is almost always based on fine cross-hatching, or rarrk, sacred design. The unusual aspect of her work is the lack of figurative representation present in so much of the work from North-East Arnhem Land. When Yunupingu looks at the stars she thinks about the universe, all around, and about every clan and every colour of people who, in all corners of the world, can look up and see the stars. The stars are also spirits of Yolngu who exist within specific bodies of water in North-East Arnhem Land when they are not in corporeal form. They exist in the astral dimension as well as ethereally within the water on an earthly plane.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008