Gulumbu YUNUPINGU, Garak the Universe Enlarge 1 /1

Gulumbu YUNUPINGU

Gumatj/Rrakpala peoples

Australia 1943 /1947 – 2012

Garak the Universe 2005 Description: larrakitj
Place made: Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on wood

Dimensions: 3040 h 250 diameter mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2005
Accession No: NGA 2005.603
Image rights: © 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

The ancestral stories about the Milky Way of the Yolngu, the peoples of Central and Eastern Arnhem Land, inspired Gulumbu Yunupingu’s paintings of Garak, the Universe. She has said, however, that her art is about far more than this and encompasses all of the stars that can be seen by the naked eye and everything that exists beyond any scientific expedition or estimation.

Yunupingu’s painting style is unlike the majority of North-East Arnhem Land art, which is almost always based on fine patterns of crosshatching, or miny’tji, and figurative or narrative representation. Her larrikitj (hollow-log memorial pole), Garak, the Universe, while imposing in scale, is remarkable in the lyrical way Yunupingu has followed the form and surface structure of the log, using closely matched tones to catch the light on its contours, mirroring the changes in density of the Milky Way. Likewise, her painting Garak the Universe is a consummate rendition of the night sky, using the natural undulations of the sheet of bark to apply layers of stars of differing density across the surface, achieving a sense of depth and movement—almost twinkling.

When Yunupingu looked at the stars she saw the universe, and she thought about every clan and colour of people who, in all corners of the world, look up and see the same stars. The stars also represent the souls of deceased Yolngu, metaphorically plucked from the pool of life that is the clan waterhole.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014