Dhopiya Yunupiŋu

Born 1950 in Miwatj (North East Arnhem Land), Australia

Lives and works in Miwatj (North East Arnhem Land)

Gumatj clan, Yolŋu nation

UNSW Galleries

Galiku, 2023

Galiku, 2023

Galiku, 2023

earth pigment on terracotta ceramic

Courtesy the artist, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala


The lands of the Yolŋu people stretch over the northeast region of the Northern Territory from land to sea, each stringy bark, water goanna and movement of the tide rich with stories told in languages older than entire nation states; stories which, prior to the British colonisation of Australia, had been shared with others. Between rock and bark paintings, pottery shards and the tamarind trees that dot the coastline, First Nations people were involved in trade relations with the Bugis and Makassar merchants who would travel from today’s Indonesia to the territory in search of trepang (sea cucumber).

In poems and songs, the stories of the economic, religious, and family relations between the Yolŋu and Southeast Asian peoples have endured for centuries, with Yolŋu languages still retaining hundreds of Makassar and Bugis words including rrupiya (money), bandirra (flag), buthulu (bottle), lipalipa (canoe) and baŋ’kulu (axe), or Arabic words borrowed via the traders such as Walitha’walitha (a spiritual being Allah Ta’ala, a name for God).

For Dhopiya Yunupiŋu, the songlines that tell of visiting trepang fishers are ripe for inspiration. Employing traditional cross-hatching (miny’tji, in North East Arnhem Land), she depicts agricultural, familial and trade scenes that illuminate a history little known to the wider Australian community.

In the wake of colonisation, which has seen the Yolŋu community threatened by Methodist missions, Japanese invasion, military occupation, and mining operations, the days of complex and more respectful Indonesian trade are difficult to conceive. Yet, in the Bugis dialect the word for ‘farewell’, djapana, is the same as the Yolŋu word for sunset – that which will rise again.

In early 2022 following the passing of her sisters Nyapanyapa and Djerrkŋu and her late husband, the famous yiḏaki maker Djalu Gurruwiwi, Dhopiya Yunupiŋu began painting at Buku Larrŋgay Mulka Centre on bark, ceramic vessels and larrakitj (memorial poles). Her works are inspired by her knowledge and connection to Maccassan traders and ceremonial activities. Mostly focussed on using a figurative style, Yunupiŋu’s work quickly caught the attention of visitors and her first body of work titled Maŋgatharra to MaregeSouth Western Sulawesi to North East Arnhemland was shown in Sydney in 2023. 

Read more about the 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, by purchasing the catalogue here.