2022 | Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire

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Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire


Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire

25 May - 18 June, 2022 Aboriginal & Pacific Art in association with Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, NT

Front cover image: Djambawa Marawili AM, Gurtha, #4239R Bark Painting, 85 x 157 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #2722-22 Bark Painting 99 x 75 cm


Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire

Fire is central to our lives. The spark in the ignition of our petrol engines. The family barbecue. A flickering candle. And yet it is still mysterious. A chemical reaction emitting heat and light that is not solid, liquid or gas. It feeds on oxygen, as do all animate beings, but it is not alive. It occurs naturally but also defines all human societies by their ability to create and control it. It is domesticity, warmth and cooked food but also the destroyer of life and property if uncontained. For Yolŋu fire has a place in the matrix of identity just like any person place or thing. Its’ songs are sung by only two closely related clans. They are both from the Yirritja half of the world. They are the Gumatj and the Maḏarrpa. Their epic song poetry records the details of the first fire. It captures the ever shifting multifarious manifestations and permutations of this plasma. The dew in the cobwebs of the spiders who are first to emerge after the inferno. The twisted scarred body of Bäru, the burns victim, saltwater crocodile. The dousing tears of the Seven Djulpan Sisters when someone lights a fire in the wrong season. These songs ultimately connect all people, animals and plants to the Fire. The works in this show are a visual mnemonic to those verses. A cryptic code fully legible only to the knowledgeable but suggestive to the rest of us whose lives also revolve around this central mystery. - Will Stubbs


Djambawa Marawili AM, Gurtha, #4239R, Bark Painting, 85 x 157 cm


Djambawa Marawili AM Baraltja #4314D Bark Painting 162 x 55 cm


Djambawa Marawili AM Bäru at Yathikpa #4008V Bark Painting 90 x 68 cm


Napuwarri Marawili Tsunami Site at Yathikpa #5425-18 Bark Painting 145 x 63 cm


Napuwarri Marawili Baraltja Dugong Yathikpa #3289-17 Bark Painting 130 x 47 cm


Barrupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #3525Q Bark Painting 132 x 83 cm


Barupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #3426W Bark Painting 73 x 49 cm


Barrupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #4138E Bark Painting 109 x 48 cm


Barrupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #4134K Bark Painting 38 x 122 cm


Barupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #3430Y Bark Painting 75 x 48 cm


Barupu Yunupiŋu (dec) Gurtha #3438W Bark Painting 130 x 46 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #2546-22 Bark Painting 120 x 68


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #2605-22 Bark Painting 96 x 62 cm


Djakŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #2839-22 Bark Painting 119 x 80 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #2878-22 Bark Painting 173 x 70 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #3826-22 Bark Painting 105 x 83 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Tears of the Djulpan #3575-22 Bark Painting 117 x 60 cm


Bambarrarr Marawili Yathikpa #8727-21 Larrakitj 262 x 17 cm

Djambawa Marawili AM Dhakandjali #4943C Larrakitj 188 cm


Wulu Marawili Yathikpa #358-22 Larrakitj 256 x 13 cm

Wulu Marawili Baraltja Larrakitj #1124-22 Larrakitj 170 x 14 cm

Rerrkirrwaŋa Munuŋgurr Gurtha #7777-21 Larrakitj 192 x 11 cm


Ŋerrk The Yolŋu world is a wholistic continuum with the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual and that between life and death more permeable than that of secular Australia. Ancestral spirits are present in the landscape and at the forefront of people’s interpretation of their lived experience in a vibrant and largely unspoiled natural landscape. As all elements of that landscape are understood to occupy a particular position in the overarching architecture of Gurrutu, it means that any plant, bird or animal signifies a clan and place in the songs. This being the case it is normal for Yolŋu people to attribute a specific clan identity to any feature of the natural environment that makes itself apparent. A bird is never just a bird but a mnemonic to a person dead or alice, a place and a whole network of kinship. Yolŋu perceive this as the spiritual world sending a signal. The Yirritja bird, Ŋerrk the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and the smaller Laparr or Bronze Wing Pigeon are sung by multiple Yirritja clans including Dhalwaŋu and Gumatj. At times of Yolŋu mourning/mortuary the spirit of ancestors past visit the site of grieving manifesting as these birds.


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #2008-22 Bark Painting 152 x 75 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #2336-22 Bark Painting 113 x 66 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #2050-22 Bark Painting 102 x 44 cm



Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #1769-22 Bark Painting 38 x 80 cm

Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #1887-22 Bark Painting 76 x 34 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #2179-22 Bark Painting 122 x 42


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #1770-22 Bark Painting 110 x 49 cm


Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu Ŋerrk #1637-22 Bark Painting 64 x 47 cm


Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire

Presented by Aboriginal & Pacific Art, Sydney, in association with Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, NT

25 May - 18 June, 2022

Aboriginal & Pacific Art, 1/24 Wellington Street, Waterloo, NSW, 2017 Australia Ph: +61 2 9699 2211 E: info@aboriginalpacificart.com.au W: www.aboriginalpacificart.com.au

All images and text copyright the Artists and the community, Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala, NT.