Panel Discussion | Madayin minytji: sacred body designs and Yolgnu art and ceremony

Maama Mununggurr, Djan’kawu Sisters story: Djarrka (Water Monitor), 1942, natural pigments on bark, 186.2 x 109.5 cm. The Donald Thomson Collection, the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria. © Courtesy the artist’s heirs and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala.

On Saturday 30 November the Ian Potter Museum are presenting a panel discussion on Yolngu bark paintings and sacred body designs, that will include senior Yolngu cultural leader and artist Wanyubi Marika from Yirrkala.


Panel Speakers | Lindy Allen, Howard Morphy, Wanyubi Marika

This panel of renowned experts will discuss the cultural and historical importance of early Yolngu bark paintings that feature sacred body designs and how they relate to Yolngu art and ceremony in the 21st century.Displayed in the exhibition Transformations: early bark painting from Arnhem Land, these remarkable paintings represent the genesis of two-dimensional painting in Yolngu culture. Collected by Professor Donald Thomson during fieldwork in 1935–37 and 1942, these rarely exhibited works are some of the first translations onto bark of sacred designs relating to creation ancestors, and are undoubtedly works of artistic brilliance.The university’s Donald Thomson collection is described as ‘one of the most comprehensive and significant collections of Aboriginal cultural heritage material in the world’, and in 2008 it was included on the UNESCO Memory of the World register.

Wanyubi Marika is an artist and senior Yolngu cultural leader, Yirrkala, NT. Wanyubi, born in 1967, is the son of Milirrpum and Reverend Liyapadiny Marika. Wanyubi was educated at Nhulunbuy High School and through TAFE has obtained an Associate Diploma of Community Management. He was a councillor for Laynahpuy Homelands Council in Yirrkala. He was the founder of the Yirralka Rangers which went on to become a major body administering a huge Indigenous Protected area. He relinquished the chair of Buku in 2011 as his responsibilities with Bunuwal the commercial arm of the Rirratjingu increased. In recent years, Wanyubi has gained recognition for his bark paintings, through his innovative application of his clan law in fine art renditions. He is represented in public and private collections around the country.

Howard Morphy is Professor of Anthropology at the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University. Prior to returning to the Australian National University in 1997, he held the chair in Anthropology at University College London. Before that he spent ten years as a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. He has been studying the art of the Yolngu people for over forty years and has written two books on the subject and has also published a general survey on Aboriginal Art (Phaidon, 1998). He is President of the Council for Museum Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association.

Lindy Allen is Senior Curator (Anthropology) at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. With 35 years’ experience in the museum sector, Lindy has fostered relationships with Indigenous communities through extensive fieldwork, and established a broader dialogue within curatorial practice engaging with institutional history, representation, collecting and anthropology. She has co-edited two volumes on Indigenous collections; and curated over 30 major exhibitions, the most recent being Ancestral Power and The Aesthetic, Painted objects from Arnhem Land in the Donald Thomson Collection 2009-2013, an exhibition developed and toured by Museum Victoria and the Ian Potter Museum of Art.

Date: Saturday 30 Nov 2013, 2.00- 4.00pm

Venue: Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, Parkville

Free event, RSVP essential as seating is limited. RSVP here.


The Ian Potter Museum’s new exhibition Transformations: early bark paintings from Arnhem Land is now open on level 2.

The remarkable bark paintings presented in this exhibition date from 1935 to early 1950. Collected by Professor Donald Thomson in the mid-1930s and early 1940s and by Dr Leonhard Adam in the early 1950s from Central and Eastern Arnhem Land, Caledon Bay and Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, these extraordinary works of art are first representations on bark of important ancestral beings, sacred clan designs and totemic animals made in the region specifically for outsiders. They represent some of the earliest translations onto bark of designs and motifs painted on bodies, sacred objects and rock surfaces. You can read more about the exhibition here