“We Are Just Like the Stars”

Gulumbu Yunupingu, Ganyu (Stars), 2003, Earth pigments on bark, 70 7/8 x 31 1/2 in. Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl © The estate of Gulumbu Yunupingu, courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Yirrkala. Photo: Sid Hoeltzell

The infinite reaches of space are a primary inspiration for Gulumbu Yunupingu, whose first depictions of stars date to 1999. Stars are frequently found in Yolngu ceremonial painting and relate to significant Dreaming narratives, such as the sisters Guthayguthay and Nhayay who became stars in the Milky Way, and the seven sisters who traveled by canoe, named Djulpan. These stories were taught to Yunupingu by her father, Mungurrawuy. Rather than literally depict these narratives, the artist conceives the stars as a metaphor for the unity of humanity: “We are just like the stars. All gathered close together. We are really as one like the stars.”

This work is on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.

Meet the Marking the Infinite Artists: Yukultji Napangati

In this series, we introduce the nine artists behind Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, on view at The Phillips Collection June 2–September 9, 2018.

Installation view of work by Yukultji Napangati in Marking the Infinite. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Born c. 1971, Wilkinkarra (Pintupi) / Lake Mackay (English), Western Australia
Lives and works in Kiwirrkurra, Western Australia

Long after other Pintupi had moved to government-run settlements, Yukultji Napangati and her eight family members remained in the Great Sandy Desert, living an isolated nomadic life. In 1984, however, they emerged near the remote Kiwirrkurra community in Western Australia, many of them making contact with the Western world for the first time. Napangati started painting in 1996, inspired by senior women such as Wintjiya Napaljtarri, while frequently assisting her husband Charlie Ward Tjakamarra. Following his death in 2005, Napangati emerged as a prominent figure in her own right, perfecting the stark linear style characteristic of contemporary painting at Kiwirrkurra. Napangati has been included in more than 80 exhibitions in Australia and internationally, and her works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; and the Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane.

Regina Pilawuk Wilson Paints Her Ancestors’ History

Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Syaw (Fishnet), 2014, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 47 1/4 x 78 3/4 in. Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl © Regina Pilawuk Wilson, courtesy Durrmu Arts, Peppimenarti. Photo: Sid Hoeltzell

“My grandfather and grandmother used to make big fishnet, before Europeans came to Australia. We call it syaw. They used to make four or five and put them in the water. I forgot the stitch because the missionaries took us in, and my grandparents died. My big sister told me to do the story on painting for our children and grandchildren, so they can remember what our ancestors used to do a long time ago. She drew it on the sand, on the dirt, and told me to paint it. I’ve got to paint the story on the canvas. It’s like our history.”–Regina Pilawuk Wilson

This work is on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.