‘May I have a volunteer to cut off their hair.’ This was the arresting opening statement to the art history tutorial led by Yolngu elder and artist Wukun Wanambi. Students soon presented their heads to have a piece of their hair snipped off and then looked on with fascination as the hair was transformed into marwat (paint brush), which then shaped an image, as the artist created marks on paper with the brush and gapan (white clay) transported to the University from the Northern Territory.
Wukun Wanambi is a frequent visitor and advisor to the University of Melbourne and the Library is delighted to now have one of his prints in the collection. The etching Wawurritjpal V (2006) was one of five prints gifted by Dr Susan Lowish through the Cultural Gifts Program in 2017. The prints were all made in the Yirrkala Print Space at Buku-Larrngay Mulka in the Eastern region of Arnhem Land.
Like many Yolngu artists, Wukun Wanambi has a high profile international career. He visited London in 2013 and created larrakitj (hollow log memorial poles) for the 2015 British Museum exhibition Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation. In 2017 he travelled to the US to work on a major forthcoming Aboriginal art exhibition.
Wukun inherited the rights to paint the saltwater imagery of the Marrakulu clan. Wawurritjpal V expresses an ancestral story which frequently appears in his artistic practice.
The prints produced in the dedicated facilities at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre demonstrate many exciting innovations and developments since Aboriginal artists first took up Western printmaking techniques in the 1960s.