‘Mankarre, dabarrabolk birribimbom bim that means; in the olden days old people would paint art. Bolki, mankerrnge bim, today we have new art. Today I still got old and new, when I want to paint old way I do.’
Joe Guymala is an acclaimed artist from Manmoyi, a remote aboriginal community in Western Arnhem Land. His distinctively graphic and engaging work, done in natural ochres on paper and on bark, combines the ancient traditions of Arnhem Land rock art with a highly individual contemporary vision. This is his first solo show in the UK.
Joe Guymala, now in his fifties, is steeped in the traditional painting lore of the Kunwinjku people: his grandfather, Namerredje Guymala, was a senior Kunwinjku law-man and artist. Joe’s own creative work includes not only painting but also music and song-writing. His deep knowledge of the flora, fauna and spiritual life of his ancestral lands has been fostered by his time as a Warddeken Ranger, part of an innovative indigenous Land Management initiative in western Arnhem Land.
Guymala’s recurrent motifs document his day-to-day life in the bush and the species that inhabit it, such as emus, kangaroos, cats and birds, as well as the traditional ‘dreamtime’ stories that connect them with the land. The natural world lies at the heart of Guymala’s art, reflecting its centrality to Aboriginal culture. However, he also reaches beyond his immediate environment to take in such distinctly modern subject-matter as YouTube Snake, establishing an interesting correlation between traditional aboriginal means of storytelling and contemporary social-media.
Guymala’s work is held in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Australia. In 2020, after a residency at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, attached to the University of Virginia, USA, his work was also exhibited at the Fralin Museum of Art, Charlottesville, Virginia.