Nyapanyapa’s work has been more valued for the spontaneity and texture of her hand. She expresses her capacity to live in the moment in the freeness of her mark making. There is no calculation or even regard for the audience in her renditions. Their final appearance is almost random. They are an expression of the movements of her hand, as they happen to have taken place on that particular day.
In early 2008 she made a dramatic departure from the previous conventions of Yolŋu art. The grammatical tense which Yolŋu sing/paint/discuss the creation forces that shape their world is unknown to non-Indigenous. Sometimes simplified as ‘Dreamtime’ in English it conveys a temporal union between prehistory, the present and the distant future. All of these time zones are happening simultaneously! This is the tense in which the creation events happened/are happening/will happen. All Yolŋu art until this point was either sacred and in this tense or decorative. Decorative paintings were expressly ‘ordinary’ and without meaning or story of any kind.
But once prompted to treat the story of her almost fatal goring by a Buffalo in the seventies Nyapanyapa threw these conventions over and unleashed a unique set of personal narrative paintings revolving around her own experiences. This subjective, individualistic and linear narrative construction was totally out of step with all previous Yolŋu art. The first of these was so surprising it was entered in the 2008 Telstra NATSIAA Award. To bolster the chances of pre-selection an explanatory video was produced by the newly founded digital archive and studio attached to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, The Mulka Project. As it happened the video was completed after the bark had been accepted but the entry was varied to include the bark and video as a 3D installation. Another first was achieved when it won that prize in the Telstra Award.
On the night she received the prize she had a nightmare of the Buffalo and vowed never to paint the beast again. From here she evolved into works that initially showed the forest without the Buffalo and then simple abstraction.
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