Gulumbu Yunupingu

Gulumbu Yunupingu / Gumatj people, Australia, 1943–2012 / Gan'yu (Stars) 2004 / Natural pigments on bark / Purchased 2008 with funds from the Estate of Jessica Ellis through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The transitions between day and night and the transformative qualities of light and darkness offer revelatory moments in the sacred traditions of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. From her immersion in sacred art traditions, Gulumbu Yunupingu uses the act of painting as a conduit to knowledge – an activity that becomes a revelatory process. Her paintings of ganyu (stars) are a means of cataloguing impressions of the infinite variation of the night sky through patterns of repetition and difference.

At the heart of Yunupingu's practice is a conceptual inquiry and a profound philosophical reflection on the human condition in the face of the sublime. She paints the universe star by star, as if by painting each one she might reach its finitude and glimpse what lies beyond. With deep humility and discipline, the artist sustains an unending and unachievable journey, to travel beyond the limits of human knowledge. The vast night sky both reassures us – an enveloping symbol of a transcendent, common humanity – and exposes the unsettling fragility of human existence.