Gutingarra Yunupingu is a finalist at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. (Supplied: The Mulka Project)
A 21-year old Arnhem Land filmmaker with profound hearing loss is one of several first-time entrants to be named a finalist in this year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs).
- Gutingarra Yunupingu, 21, is a prolific Arnhem Land filmmaker and has been shortlisted for a major national award
- As sign language is prolific in Yolngu culture, he was able to communicate easily despite being deaf
- He is among 68 artists from across Australia to have been shortlisted
Gutingarra Yunupingu from north-east Arnhem Land, whose first language is Yolngu signing, is one of the fresh faces emerging onto Australia’s national art stage, according to the curator of Aboriginal art at the Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory, Luke Scholes.
“It’s really a wonderful mixture of these elders of the Aboriginal art sector returning and this incredible new fresh collection of artists who are going to come along and tinker with a few expectations,” Mr Scholes said.
“It’s an incredible feat to enter for the first time and have your work received, but we also have the return of a number of artists who have won prizes previously.”
Mr Yunupingu, who’s believed to be the first Indigenous person with profound deafness to graduate year 12 in the Northern Territory, spent several years doing work experience at the Buku-Larrgay Mulka Centre, an Indigenous community-controlled art centre in north-east Arnhem Land.
He was employed by the centre straight after graduating high school.
Rebecca Charlesworth, the assistant coordinator at the Mulka Project in Yirrkala, said Mr Yunupingu began by shooting and editing cultural events and ceremonies, but soon moved to making more concept-driven stylised films, many of which are digital self-portraits.
“He’ll set up the camera, check all the lightning and then do a test shoot, so he’s been quite interested in capturing himself,” Ms Charlesworth said.
“He quite likes being on the other side of the camera as well as behind it.”
Fast becoming a prolific filmmaker, Mr Yunupingu said he was inspired by Yolngu culture, dancing, singing and ceremony.
“My film is about my connections with family, with all my relatives, everyone,” he said.
Gutingarra Yunupingu’s first language was Yolgŋu sign language. (Supplied: The Mulka Project)
The centre’s art coordinator, Will Stubbs, said Yolngu culture compels people to share and pass on cultural knowledge.
“These young people are doing it because they’re driven to communicate culturally and because it is inherent given that all humans are family that we treat each other in that familial way and share everything we have,” Mr Stubbs said.
Mr Stubbs said lots of Yolngu communication is non-verbal so sign language is used by everyone, which means deafness does not pose a problem for Mr Yunupingu.
Curator Mr Scholes said it was exciting for the museum to have Mr Yunupingu’s work debut at this year’s awards.
“Guti has helped out with a couple of prior entries that were received over the years and he’s an extraordinary editor and practitioner himself so we’re very excited for him to be entering this year his own incredible work,” Mr Scholes said.
Mr Yunupingu is one of 68 artists from across Australia to have been selected as finalists in the 2019 NATSIAAs, the premier event on the visual arts calendar for the Northern Territory.
Mr Scholes said he was seeing a lot of work that thwarting assumptions about Aboriginal art.
“Contemporary art being made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists at the moment is becoming increasingly more ambitious with the use of materials but also the scale and nature of the work that they’re producing is really expanding beyond the brief of Aboriginal artists,” he said.
“As technology becomes more affordable and therefore more available to artists, particularly in remote areas, it really does broaden the possibilities of what can be achieved.”
‘I know they’re looking at me’
Marlene Rubuntja is another finalist from Alice Springs who has submitted a very different type of work — sewing dyed blankets and gum leaves to make sculptures.
“You boil it and put the blanket in and draw it, cut it out with scissors, we draw the shapes, birds, animals, bush tucker,” Ms Rubuntja said.
Marlene Rubuntja sews dyed blankets and gum leaves to make sculptures. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)
She said she was honoured to be named a NATSIAA finalist and added that the nomination affected the way people look at her in the community.
“When I walk around in town, I know they’re looking at me,” she said.
“I just walk with my head up.
“I feel really proud for myself and I feel happy and I can feel it today.”
Marlene Rubuntja is a finalist in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)