The art of the Yirrkala region has been developing an appreciative audience since the township was founded as a mission in 1935. Work from Yirrkala was amongst the earliest commercial Aboriginal art marketed by Methodist Overseas Mission. There is strong evidence to suggest that the art emerging from Yirrkala in the mid 1950s was a catalyst in the non-Aboriginal art world’s realisation that Indigenous Australian art is a unique and profound independent art tradition – the equal of any other global form. Further, the artists of Yirrkala were amongst the first Indigenous Australians to recognise the potential use of visual art as a political tool and put this into practice with the now famous Yirrkala Church Panels (on display in our museum) and Yirrkala Bark Petition (currently on display at Parliament House in Canberra) dating from 1963, also the Wuki[i Installation in The NT Supreme Court, Darwin and the Saltwater Collection in the Australian National Maritime Museum.
When government policy shifted and self-determination came to communities in Arnhem Land, the artists saw the establishment of a community controlled art centre as critically important to further their economic independence, cultural security over sacred designs, and to maintain political and intellectual sovereignty.
Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the northeastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolngu (Aboriginal) staff of around twenty services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km (Map).
In the 1960’s, Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre’s main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolngu-owned business to sell Yolngu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that exhibits and sells globally.
In 1976, the Yolngu artists established ‘Buku-Larrnggay Arts’ in the old Mission health centre as an act of self-determination coinciding with the withdrawal of the Methodist Overseas Mission and the Land Rights and Homeland movements.
In 1988, a new Museum was built with a Bicentennary grant and this houses a collection of works put together in the 1970’s illustrating clan law and also the Message Sticks from 1935 and the Yirrkala Church Panels from 1963.
In 1996, a screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces was added to the space to provide a range of different mediums to explore.
In 2007, The Mulka Project was added which houses and displays a collection of tens of thousands of historical images and films as well as creating new digital product.
Still on the same site but in a greatly expanded premises Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre now consists of two divisions; the Yirrkala Art Centre which represents Yolngu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the Museum.