Feature

Since embarking on a creative path only a mere 15 years ago, Yolŋu artist Gunybi Ganambarr has been continuously praised for his weaving of Indigenous forms and traditional stories with a contemporary sensibility. He has been called a “revolutionary”, “genius” and “an innovator”, and has accumulated many accolades, including the 2018 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA).

But as Ganambarr explains in the podcast conversation, visual art was not the first form he gravitated towards. His foremost creative experience started as a didgeridoo player, which allowed him to travel nationally and internationally. Prior to becoming an artist, Ganambarr also spent 12 years as a builder, and he credits this experience with familiarising himself with the tools and materials that would later find their way into his creative practice.

While the list of accolades that Ganambarr has received is only growing, he had entered the NATSIAA three times before being announced as this year’s winner for his etching Buyku. The artwork, which was created on a large piece of aluminium, depicts a fish trap ceremony. In the podcast Ganambarr explains the story behind the intricate etching, speaking of how it represents his grandfather’s clan group and the flow of water.

The work captured attention not only for the story it evoked, but also for the beauty of its formal precision, and how it conjures movement of water as it flows through Arnhem Land.

“That’s different directions I’m doing,” explains Ganambarr. “You imagine that water when the flood come, the water floods everywhere and runs everywhere.” He describes how he captures this sensation: “The water’s not running straight, it turns this way, this way, that way, left and right, so we can see all the movements.”

While Gunybi maintains a sense of humble pride when talking about his NATSIAA win and ongoing success, he appears more interested in passing along advice for younger Aboriginal artists. In the final moments of the podcast he speaks of the importance of passing stories and tradition on to the next generation, but also reminds young artists to use their skill to create “in their own way”.

This podcast has been produced in partnership with the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in recognition of the annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

The Interview with Gunybi Ganambarr was produced and hosted by Tiarney Miekus. Episode mix by Mino Peric and soundtrack by Jessie Warren.

Tiarney Miekus