The Yolngu community of Yirrkala in east Arnhem Land, in the North Territory, is one of the great centres of Australian aboriginal culture. It has during the past seventy years played a decisive part in the evolution both of aboriginal art and aboriginal political awareness.
During the 1950s it developed a bark-painting tradition, setting down traditional motifs in natural ochres on flattened bark panels. The work was an assertion of aboriginal lore and pride. In 1963 the community dispatched a 'bark petition' to the national government asserting their claims to their own land, in the face of incursion by mining companies. It marked an important moment in the aboriginal Land Rights movement, and an early instance of the way in which art expresses and projects aboriginal identity.
The art movement has prospered at Yirrkala. The richly-worked and formally meticulous bark-painting tradition has been supplemented by other art practices, including print-making, painting, weaving and carving. The enduring strength and continuity of Yolngu culture has found expression in the work of many significant artists, including Banduk Marika, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu and Naminapu Maymuru.