Printmaking by Yolngu artists of Northeast Arnhem Land: 'Another way of telling our stories'
Denise Yvonne Salvestro, University, The Australian National, University, The Australian National
Art plays a fundamental role in the lives of the Yolngu—the Indigenous people of Northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Knowledge of their culture, laws, history and relationship to country has historically been passed on to successive generations orally and through their clan specific patterns and designs (miny'tji). Since first known contact with the outside world Yolngu artists have demonstrated innovation in adapting their art, and adopting introduced materials and techniques, to create art for the purpose of passing on knowledge and enlightening others about their ontology, culture and title to land. This thesis provides the first comprehensive history of the introduction to, and use of the print medium by the artists of Northeast Arnhem Land with a focus on those artists working at the Print Space at the Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala. The Print Space is unique amongst Indigenous owned and run print facilities in that since its inception in 1995, locally trained artists and printmakers have been employed in the continuous production of limited edition prints. The research undertaken has revealed that the successful incorporation of printmaking into Yolngu art production resulted from a combination of factors, with the Yolngu themselves being proactive agents in influencing the development of the Print Space and promoting the use of the print medium for political, social, educational and economic purposes. Women in particular enthusiastically advocated the acceptance of this introduced medium as printmaking played an important part in liberating female artists from their historically restricted role in art production. The adoption of print technology was controversial. The issue arose as to whether the mechanical reproduction of sacred clan designs moved the creative away from the hand of the artists and their direct connection with the creator ancestors. A further concern was that printmaking had the potential to encourage the inappropriate use of miny'tji and the abuse o [...]
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