John Bulunbulun

Biography

Born in 1946, near the Arafura swamp in central Arnhem Land, Johnny Bulunbulun’s country was Ngaliyindi and his clan was Gurrambakurramba.  Bulunbulun was a ceremonial leader and one of the most eminent singers and ceremonial men in North-Central Arnhem Land, he was the ‘boss’ for Marradjiri (birth of a child), Djapi (young boy’s initiation) and Murrkundjeh (mortuary/funeral) ceremonies.

Bulunbulun was trained in ceremony by his second father acclaimed bark painter George Milpurru (b.1934 d.1998) and  he apprenticed under his father Ngarritj and his uncle Peter Bandjurldjurl in the creation of painting and carving.  When Bulunbulun was a young man, after his initiation, he and his family moved from their country at Ngalyindi to Nangalala on the Arnhem Land mainland.  When Bulunbulun’s father passed away he moved to Maningrida to live with his uncles.

After moving to Maningrida, Bulunbulun left painting as he grieved for his father.  He worked as a carpenter building new houses in the emerging community, at the sawmill, as a plumber, working with the local store delivering food for sale out bush and as part of a team driving bullock from Maningrida to Bulman.  During this time he met his first wife Nelly (dec), Jack Wunuwun’s sister.  He built a bark hut in Maningrida and commenced work at the still emergent Art Centre being the first Indigenous Artworker.  He returned to his art practice, applying what he had learnt from his father and under the watchful eyes of his uncles Peter Bandjurldjurl and George Garrawun.

Upon the arrival of Bulunbulun’s first son, he relocated to Nelly’s country at Gamerdi.  At Gamerdi and nearby Wurdeja outstation were artists’ Jack Wunuwun, Michael Ngalabiya, Michael Gadjarwala, Jimmy An.gunguna and Tommy Gondorra Steele.  The work produced by these men (Wunuwun and Bulunbulun in particular) at this time was unprecedented in terms of highlighting the art of the region, of Arnhem Land and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in general to audiences nationally and internationally.  The work that they did and their generosity of spirit put Maningrida Arts & Culture artists and the art centre itself on the map.

It was during this time, this gathering/school of artists at Gamerdi, that Bulunbulun honed his skills and perfected what were to become and remain the trademarks of his work; the initial drawing, the achievement of a perfect balance and symmetry of seemly complex motifs to form an overall equilibrium reflecting the natural harmony of his country and djang;  the meticulous layering of rarrk executed with brushes made up of just two or three strands of reed; the graphic ‘body designs’ from Marradjiri, Djapi and Murrkundjeh ceremonies; the mammoth hollow log coffins taking up to six months to complete; the graphic simplicity of works depicting utilitarian items such as hunting knives and rifles and an ongoing exploration and experimentation with screen printing and lithography.

In 1979, Johnny Bulunbulun and David Milaybuma produced the first limited edition prints by Aboriginal artists to be marketed widely, at Port Jackson Press. In 1983, Johnny Bulunbulun and England Banggala were among the first Aboriginal artists to experiment with lithography, at the Printmaking Workshop in the Canberra School of Art. 

Throughout the 1980’s Bulunbulun collaborated with other artist from Maningrida, nationally & internationally (most notably, Lin Onus) with academics (most notably, the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan)  and filmmakers (Curtis Levy and John Darling).

In 1989 he successful took action against R & T Textiles, a Queensland t-shirt manufacture, after they illegally reproduced one of his works ‘Magpie Geese and Water Lilles at the Waterhole’. The case Bulun Bulun v R & T Textiles, [1998] ALR 157 become a landmark in Indigenous intellectual property rights. 

During the 1990’s Bulunbulun was featured in surveys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art; at the national state galeries in USA, Japan and Germany.  In 1992, he lead a group of ten performers to Makassar (Ujung Padang) and Kupang in West Timor to perform the Ganalbingu ceremony of diplomacy and friendship to the Macassar people of South Sulawesi.  For many hundreds of years, Macassar seafarers made annual visits to the North Australian coast and trade economies developed with Arnhem Land people. The Marayarr Murrukundja ceremony reflects this long history of pre-European contact. In 1998 the Macassan trade economy with his people was the subject of Bulunbulun’s large scale commission cast work, ‘Ganalpingu Cosmology’ at the Macquarie Bank, George St in Sydney.

In the early 2000’s his work was exhibited in Spain, France and the Netherlands. In 2001 Bulunbulun won the Bark Painting section of the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

In 2004 he was the recipient of the Red Ochre Award. It is awarded annually by the Australia Council for the Arts to an outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist for lifetime achievement.

Languages

Ganalbingu

From

Ngaliyindi

Community

Maningrida : NT

Moiety

Yirridjdja

Subsection

Bangardi

Date of birth

1945-12-31

Clan

Gurrambakurramba

Past Exhibitions

Solo

  • 2003
    Djilibunyumurr - Ganalbingu land, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1984
    Christine Abrahams Gallery, Christine Abrahams Gallery, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1981
    John Bulunbulun, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW

Group

  • 2015
    John Mawurndjul and John Bulunbulun, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2009
    During the Wet, Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, USA
  • 2009
    Works in Season: Bark Paintings, Carvings & Weavings, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2009
    Survey from Maningrida Arts & Culture, Mossenson Gallery, Perth, WA
  • 2009
    26th Telstra National & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
  • 2009
    Maningrida Group Show, Maningrida Arts & Culture Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 2008
    Gungura - The Spiraling Wind, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2008
    Maningrida Arts, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2007
    Spirit in Variation Part II, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2007
    Selected new works from Maningrida, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin
  • 2007
    24th Telstra National & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 2007
    After the Wet, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    Dream Tracks, Aboriginal art of Arnhem Land, La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
  • 2006
    New prints from Maningrida, MAC, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    Peintures sur ecorce de Maningrida, African Muse Gallery, Paris, France
  • 2006
    A survey show from Maningrida, Raft artspace, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    Our home: CDU Art Collection, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT
  • 2006
    Aboriginal printmakers, Framed Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 2005
    Its all about country, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2004
    Likanmirri - Connections: The AIATSIS Collection of Art, Drill Hall Galley, Canberra
  • 2003
    A decade of prints from the Art Collection, Charles Darwin University, NTU, Darwin, NT
  • 2003
    Maningrida Threads, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 2002
    East + West, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 2002
    Barks in the spotlight, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 2002
    19th Telstra National & Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
  • 2001
    18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • 2001
    Espiritualidad y Arte Aborigen Australiano, Communidad Madrid, Touring exhibition in various regional centres in Spain
  • 2001
    Vital fluids, Helen Maxwell Gallery, Canberra, ACT
  • 2000
    Aboriginal bark paintings, sculptures & hollow logs, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1999
    Fighting for Culture, Culture Indigenart, Perth, WA
  • 1999
    Art and Place: Collecting Contemporary Art, Northern Territory University Northern Territory University Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 1999
    Bodypaint show, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1998
    Carried Lightly, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville Touring Australia
  • 1997
    Mawurndjul & Bulunbulun, Annandale Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1997
    22nd Shell Fremantle Print Award, Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, WA
  • 1996
    The Third National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Art Award and Exhibition. The Art of Place, Old Parliament House, Canberra, ACT
  • 1996
    Copyrites: Aboriginal Art in the Age of Reproductive Technologies, Art Gallery of New South Wales, NSW
  • 1996
    The Language of Place, Framed Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 1996
    Spirits of the Dreaming, Raintree Fine Art Gallery, Darwin, NT
  • 1995
    The Second National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Art Award and Exhibition, Old Parliament House, Canberra, ACT
  • 1995
    Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
  • 1994
    Gemaltes Land: Kunst der Aborigines aus Arnhem Land Australien, Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany
  • 1994
    Maningrida Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW
  • 1994
    Maningrida, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1993
    Aratjara: Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
  • 1993
    Ten years of acquisitions from the ANU collection, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT
  • 1992
    New Tracks Old Land: An Exhibition of Contemporary Prints from Aboriginal Australia, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • 1992
    Crossroads - Towards a New Reality: Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan
  • 1990
    Balance 1990: views, visions, influences, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, QLD
  • 1990
    Maningrida, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1990
    Keepers of the Secret: Aboriginal Art from Arnhemland, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA
  • 1989
    Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • 1988
    Dreamings: the art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries, New York, USA
  • 1988
    Bulawirri/Bugaja (A Special Place), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC
  • 1988
    Australian Aboriginal Graphics from the Collection, Flinders University Art Museum, SA
  • 1987
    Hogarth Galleries, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney, NSW
  • 1986
    Ramingining Art Exhibition, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT
  • 1986
    My Country, My Story, My Painting: Recent Paintings by Twelve Arnhem Land Artists, National Gallery of Australia exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT
  • 1986
    The Art of the First Australians, Kobe City Museum, Japan
  • 1985
    South Pacific Festival of Arts, South Pacific Festival of Arts Townsville, QLD
  • 1983
    Artists of Arnhem Land, Canberra School of Arts, Canberra, ACT

Collections

  • Charles Darwin University Art Collection
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, QLD
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, SA
  • Artbank, Sydney, NSW
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA
  • Central Collection, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT
  • Djomi Museum, Maningrida, NT
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide, SA
  • The Holmes á Court Collection, Perth, WA
  • The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, California, USA
  • Kluge Collection, Morven Estate, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
  • Milingimbi Collection, MECA, Milingimbi Educational and Cultural Association, NT
  • Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Maningrida Collection, Sydney, NSW
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC
  • National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW
  • Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra, ACT