Råkay is a water reed or sedge (Eleocharis dulcis) with an edible rush corm (root portions) which was a staple of Yolngu life before wheat flour. It was a communal activity for women to gather these in the dry season in the dried out floodplains. This work depicts both the sacred and secular aspects of these root foods.
Råkay grows on wetlands and has erect, narrow, tubular leaves and creeping rhizomes which produce additional plants. The corms are small but quite sweet and it is one of the main foods of the millions of Magpie Geese that gather over the wetlands after the Arnhem Land wet season.
This work is an outcome of a phase where the artist explored lesser-known plant species which she feared were being forgotten by younger generations. This coincided with artist John Wolseley’s interest in returning to Yilpara and the two spent an extended period exploring the botany of Blue Mud Bay. She wants to renew the knowledge of this plants because when she was young this is the food that she grew up on. In those days old people lived for a long time without illness.
The project began when the two artists Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley were part of Djalkiri- We are Standing on their Names – a collaborative art project at Yilpara in 2009. Later Mulkun adopted John as her Wawa or brother, and gave him the name Langgurrk (a type of beetle grub which lives in mud and yams). They spent ten days together in the remote Blue Mud Bay region in Midawarr, the harvest season, when many of the little known root foods are ripe. Since then John Wolseley has journeyed to East Arnhem land each season, and the two have hunted rare plants, painted them; and eaten the unique tropical yams and tubers .
From the Yirrkala perspective the origin point of this show was Mulkun’s spontaneous expression of her conviction that her people are dying through their lack of attention to this knowledge. It was shortly after this statement that she and Wolseley came together over this joint mission.
Since then Wirrpanda has been making a comprehensive series of barks, larrakitj and prints about the poorly reciognised food plants of East Arnhem Land. They figure plants and trees of various kinds which live in the Yirrkala region. And since 2009 John Wolseley has also been making drawings, woodcuts and large works on paper about the same plants and landscape. A breakthrough moment was when John sent Mulkun some slabs of ancient Huon pine. She began to make these woodcuts which were later taken by John to his home studio in Victoria where he acted as her printmaker.
Printed by John Wolseley with Gibson & Gill Printers November 2013
Paper: Mulberry 25gsm 136 x 71cm