Yirrkala Drawings: Works on Paper, Barks, Sculptures

– by Jen Perry

Yirrkala Drawings, the latest exhibition to be displayed at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, features the bold, bright and enigmatic works of the Yolngu community of eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Originally drawn between 1946-1947, the art is primarily rendered using paper, bark and crayons. The pieces are striking and appealing in a way that the most unassuming of mediums most often are. That skilled artists could create such works with the simple crayon, who knew?

The art’s vibrancy and use of colours ties in to the thematic concepts of ceremony, family, culture and connection to country. The highlighting of personal stories with the use of striking lines and recognisable shapes, renders the art even more accessible. These connections are further explored through reading the information boards placed around the exhibit, which also provide insight into how the relationship between the Yolngu people and Macassan sailors and traders, from Indonesia, fostered international understanding and cooperation between these two groups.

The collection is also hosted alongside works from year 12 students from the Yirrkala Community School, who created their pieces with input from their families following a workshop with Yolngu artists. The two displays outline the intergenerational carrying on of culture and tradition, one that is not often illustrated at art exhibitions. It was enlightening and encouraging to experience the ways in which culture is being fostered and protected in younger generations.

I highly recommend this exhibition for anyone wishing to experience the art of Yirrkala Community, which isn’t likely to be shown again in these parts for quite some time. The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery truly has access to such unique collections, and its position on University of Western Australia’s campus makes it inordinately easy for people to get to, public transport or otherwise. If you’re looking for an inspiring afternoon, look no further than your local gallery.


You can visit the Yirrkala Drawings exhibition at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery until June 20, 2015. Admission is free and the gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 to 5 PM. Visit their website for more information.

Images courtesy of the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery & Berndt Museum.

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