Gurrutu: The Art Of Mulkun Wirrpanda

25 Jan-4 Mar 2023
PV 25 Jan 2023, 6-8pm


The late Mulkun Wirrpanda’s (1947-2021) primary subject was the botanical life of her surroundings in Yolnu “country”. In Wirrpanda’s hands, this ostensibly straightforward subject conveys a rich and ancient cultural inheritance.

A through line in the work of many First Nations Australians is the use of small motifs to convey far reaching concepts of cosmic significance. The story of the Rainbow Serpent, though not an origin story shared by all Indigenous Australians, is the most well-known example of this. This conceptual approach - the macro expressed through the micro - is particularly true of Wirrpanda who, in a blade of grass or the leaf of a tree, conveyed a symbiotic relationship with the land that had sustained her and her ancestors for 65,000 years. Though not an exact textual equivalent, the verse of William Blake is consistent with Wirrpanda’s conceptual concerns: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour” (Auguries of Innocence).

The term “gurrutu” refers to Wirrpanda and the Yolnu’s understanding of the cosmos, what Will Stubbs (Coordinator of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre) describes as a “...matrix of meaning... which is invisible to us and too complex for casual comprehension.” It is perhaps most easily comprehended, however, through the work of Wirrpanda who, in her hatching technique, amongst other aesthetic elements, conveyed an interconnectedness and familial bond with every natural element. 

The exhibition culminates in the last artwork Wirrpanda ever made, Untitled II, a series of drawn variations of a void. In the context of Wirrpanda’s life and work, the space depicted is imbued with a sense of ancestral communication, rather than morbid contemplation. What is ultimately expressed in all the pieces from this exhibition is a societal and ecological sophistication which is often overlooked.

Gurrutu: The Art Of Mulkun Wirrpanda is the result of an ongoing relationship between JGM Gallery’s Jennifer Guerrini Maraldi and the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre. Guerrini Maraldi says of the association that “We (JGM Gallery) have had a longstanding relationship with the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre. It is an honour to be entrusted with this exhibition by both the Art Centre and the artist’s estate.”