As a child, Naminapu Maymuru-White used to sit for hours patiently watching her father paint. At about the age of 12, she began to learn herself, and was taught by her father and his brother, Narritjin Maymuru, two giants of Yolŋu art from the late fifties through to the seventies.
In recent years a strong group of female artists have emerged within the Yirrkala community (located in East Arnhem Land, NT). These women have been instructed in painting by their fathers and grandfathers and taught clan designs that have previously been the domain of men.
Naminapu Maymuru is among the first to have been taught these designs and to have used them in her works.
In 2013 the artist marked a shift in her practice, finding her own ways of representing her clan identity through her Milngiyawuy (Milky Way) works.
On now at Sullivan+Strump
Sydney, MilngiyawuyThe River of Heaven and Earth, is her first major solo exhibition since 2007.
Its a significant body of work from one of the most senior artists in the Yirrkala community, with a career spanning almost six decades; occupying both floors of the Sullivan+Strump gallery and comprising 26 individual pieces - a mix of larrakitj (memorial poles) and bark paintings, including her largest bark work to date, measuring almost 2.5 metres square.
The works in MilngiyawuyThe River of Heaven and Earth tell ancestral stories from the Manggalili clan: namely of two Guwak men, destined to lead their clan to their now homeland of Djarrakpi (around 190 km from Yirrkala).
Having seen the people settled in their new homeland they announced to the Manggalili their farewell, and they travelled out to sea with paddles and a canoe.
In the bay, at a place of significance, strong winds developed and a wake from the ancestral turtle capsized the canoe - the men drowned.
Attempts were made to rescue the men, but it was to no avail, as they had destined themselves as offerings to the night sky where they and subsequent Manggalili souls are seen today in the Milky Way.
At this place is the site of Yingalpiya, the freshwater crocodiles nesting place and also the spirit source for Manggalili people.
The stars in Naminapu's work represent the souls of these ancestors, and all ancestors, past, present and future.
Just opened this morning, MilngiyawuyThe River of Heaven and Earth is on now until Saturday March 12 at Sullivan+Strumpf, 799 Elizabeth Street, Zetland..
The exhibition follows on from the acclaimed group show, Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala, at the National Gallery of Victoria, which features several of Naminapus works.
The stunning floor mural at the entrance to the Bark Ladies exhibition shows details from one of Naminapu's bark paintings for MilngiyawuyThe River of Heaven and Earth, supersized and recreated as a series of almost 600 tiles, laid out across the floor of Federation Court.