In the digital age, traditional printmaking is a somewhat misunderstood art medium. A common misconception is that an art print is simply a printed copy of an original artwork. In fact, some of the best artworks in the UTS Art Collection are prints that have been devised and made as artworks in themselves, usually in small editions, and often with the assistance of a master printmaker in a specialist workshop. Seen side by side, the difference between a reproduction and an original graphic print is immediately evident in the richness, depth, and integrity of the ‘original’ print.
This is the case with Lunggurrma, a striking graphic produced by senior Ganalbingu man Johnny Bulunbulun in collaboration with printmaker Leon Steiner at the Northern Editions Studio in Darwin. Before his death in 2010, Bulunbulun was an important singer and ceremonial man for the northern part of Central Arnhem Land.
Lunggurrma depicts one of Bulunbulun’s personal totem designs, used as a body decoration in diplomatic public ceremonies by the Ganalbingu and Djarrawitjibi people, performed to strengthen economic, social and kinship ties between different groups.
A common theme in many of Bulunbulun’s paintings was the annual visit of the Macassan traders. For more than 300 years up until the early 20thC, the Macassans sailed south to harvest trapang (“sea cucumber”) on the shores of Arnhem Land for trade with the Chinese. Their impact on the local people was felt not only through their presence but also through the tools and other trade items they left behind. Songs, dances and ceremonies developed over time remembering these visits and exchanges, woven into local culture and oral history. Lunggurrma (translated as the Northern wind) was what brought the traders boats during the wet season, and is represented here with the triangular pattern, running from shoulder to thigh when painted on the body.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Umag May 2017
Art & U features a highlight from the UTS Art Collection in every issue