'A fragment of something much bigger' — new exhibition showcases paintings by Paul Maymuru

Paul Maymuru, Milŋiyawuy, 2024, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts.

A new exhibition showcasing expansive works by Maŋgalili artist Paul Maymuru will open next week at the University of Melbourne’s Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery.

Paul Maymuru: New Paintings Milŋiyawuy features a suite of large-scale paintings of the Milky Way, which will be exhibited for the first time at the Fiona And Sidney Myer Gallery. The exhibition represents the artist’s first major show outside of the Northern Territory, and the gallery’s third collaboration with a remote community.

Dr David Sequeira, Director of the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery, says: "There’s a cosmological quality to a lot of Paul’s work – the Milky Way is not just the subject of Paul’s paintings, but also his songlines."

"At first glance the paintings appear similar, but the more time you spend with them, you start to notice subtle differences in the clustering of the stars and their positioning. The pattern of stars bleeds off the edges of the canvas, imbuing the works with a sense of endless continuity or infinity – a feeling that the work is a fragment of something much bigger, and largely incomprehensible."

Paul Maymuru is a senior member of the Maŋgalili community in East Arnhem Land, and David notes parallels between his role in passing on knowledge and the cosmological subject matter of his paintings.

“Paul is deeply involved in sharing and maintaining knowledge and ritual – in a way, this knowledge is part of a cosmological thinking. Like the continuity in his paintings, he is also working with continuity in terms of passing on knowledge and fostering the next generation of artists."

Artist Paul Maymuru says: "My father Baluka is a well known artist and he has taught me my sacred clan designs. I also follow my grandfather, Nanyin, and his brother, Narratjin, who was one of the first Yolŋu artists to be recognised by the Australian people. I live in my Maŋgalili clan lands at Djarrakpi, my wife’s land at Balma, and at Gapuwiyak. I play the role of Ḏalkarra, with full knowledge of the law, songs, patterns and designs and sacred business for the Yirritja moiety."

David encourages people to spend time with the paintings. "There's a real opportunity for people to immerse themselves in these works, to get lost in them – to even be hypnotised by them. They're very contemplative works," he says.

"That's the magic of this show. This is a show that says ‘slow down, take time, be with me’. It’s about considering yourself as part of something much bigger than you. It's very humbling, and it reminds you of how connected things really are."

Paul Maymuru: New Paintings Milŋiyawuy will be on display at the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery from 24 May - 22 June. The exhibition will open on 24 May after the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music's annual Lighting the Wilin ceremony marking the start of National Reconciliation Week 2024. Plan your visit.