Born 1968, Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory; Lives and works Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
"Painting helps me be alive."
Desert + Coast: Seven Elder Aboriginal Painters
Dhambit Munuŋgurr is a Yolŋu woman from Gunyuŋara and belongs to an incredible lineage of award-winning and respected artists and leaders in politics and Yolŋu lore. Her grandfather, artist Muŋgurrawuy Yunupiŋu (c. 1904–79), was a contributor to the 1963 Yirrkala Church Panels—the first significant claim to land by Indigenous Australians through the documentation of ancestral narratives that evidence an unbroken connection to Country. Her artist parents Mutitjpuy Munuŋgurr (1932–93) and Gulumbu Yunupiŋu (1945–2012) were both first-prize winners at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA).
Mununggur has been painting since the age of twelve, having grown up with the aspiration to follow in her parent’s footsteps. Her work was initially focused on the application of traditional ochers and Yolŋu structures, though after suffering a life-threatening accident in 2005 and significant injuries that left her wheelchair-bound, she began to develop a unique and highly recognizable approach to painting. While undergoing recovery, Mununggur was granted special cultural permission to experiment with acrylic paint. Earlier works continued to echo the traditional Yolŋu palette of orange, red, yellow, and black; however, over time, Munuŋgurr introduced cool tones of green and then blue instead of and/or mixed with natural ochers, such as gapan (sacred white ocher). She has favored a cool-tone palette ever since, and in doing so has marked a significant development in Yolŋu creative and cultural practice.
Her large bark canvases and larrakitj (hollow log memorial poles) are politically potent and culturally rich. Expressively rendered with gapan, electric ultramarine, and pastel blues applied with a marwat (traditional fine brush made with human hair), Mununggur’s works reflect the essence and energy of the sky and sea. They also convey her intimate connection with and knowledge and understanding of Country. Munuŋgurr’s works also often articulate a powerful convergence of art, politics, and Yolngu law. Her journey as an artist is one of determination and resilience, and painting has been central to her recovery. Painting is healing; “it keeps me alive,” she says.
Recent solo exhibitions include Dhambit Munuŋgurr (2023), Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Dhambit Munuŋgurr (2019), Salon Project Space, Darwin. Her work has also been presented in major group exhibitions such as Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala, National Gallery of Victoria, Naarm (Melbourne) and Tarnanthi: Festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art (2019), Art Gallery of South Australia, Tartanya (Adelaide). In 2022 Munuŋgurr was awarded the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA), Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin. In 2023 her work won the prestigious Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Munuŋgurr’s work is represented in significant public and private collections nationally and internationally, including the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri (Canberra), Foundation Opale, Switzerland, and Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA.