The Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney is hosting a unique exhibition curated in collaboration with the Yolŋu (Yolngu) community.

The exhibition, Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu Foundations, and the book, Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections celebrate the University’s extensive Yolŋu collections from eastern Arnhem Land where the Yolŋu people have been making art for millennia. Both the exhibition and the book are underpinned by the Yolŋu process of makarraṯa, which promotes a shared understanding to find a unified path forward.

Gululu dhuwala djalkiri exhibition

The flagship exhibition, which marks the opening of the new Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University, features 350 paintings and sculptures representing more than 20 Yolŋu clans and 100 artists.

Being held at the museum’s largest exhibition space, the 420-square-metre Ian Potter Gallery, the exhibition was developed over three years in consultation with three Yolŋu art centres representing the regions where these artworks were created: Milingimbi Art and Culture (Yurrwi Island), Bula’bula Arts (Ramingining) and Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre (Yirrkala). Elders from the Milingimbi, Ramingining and Yirrkala communities worked with museum curators on the layout, grouping and interpretation of the works.

“In 2018 we hosted two Elders from each of the communities to tell us how they would organise the exhibition from a Yolŋu perspective,” said co-curator Matt Poll. “Consultation continued via phone and email right up to the final installation.”

The artworks curated for the Gululu dhuwala djalkiri exhibition represent generations of Yolŋu artists and include works from the Yolŋu territories of Milingimbi and Yirrkala collected by anthropologists Lloyd Warner (1920s) and Ronald and Catherine Berndt (1940s). The exhibition also features a large number of artworks from the JW Power collection, acquired in the 1980s through Djon Mundine, a Bandjalung curator and then Art Advisor for the Ramingining community. An award-winning contemporary multimedia work from Yirrkala and a series of memorial poles from a 2016 Makarraṯa event at Milingimbi were new acquisitions for the show. 

Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections

Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections (SUP 2021) is a multi-authored, richly illustrated book featuring diverse contributions from Indigenous and non-indigenous staff of the Yolŋu Art Centres, Elders and artists, and historians and curators. The book explores different understandings of the collections, and their histories and meanings, and reflects on the changing relationships between Yolŋu communities and museums over time.

“The patterns and designs were laid down on the country and in the minds of Yolŋu by the ancestral beings at the time of creation,” writes Yolŋu leader Djambawa Marawili, AM in a foreword to the book. “They have been passed on through the generations from our great grandparents, to our grandparents, to our parents, to us. They are the reality of this country. They tell us all who we are.”

The Ian Potter Gallery was named after the Ian Potter Foundation, which donated $5 million towards construction of the museum.

“The Foundation is delighted to see the gallery open with this unique exhibition of Indigenous artworks ranging from the 20th century to more current digital works,” said foundation chairman Charles Goode AC. “Curated in consultation with the Yolŋu community, it is bound to foster greater engagement and appreciation of Indigenous culture by the wider community.”

Exhibition details:

The Gululu dhuwala djalkiri exhibition runs until 29 August 2021 at the Ian Potter Gallery, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University Place, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Sydney. Entry is free.

Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm; Thursday nights until 9pm; Sat-Sun, 12-4pm.