A long way from Yirrkala… Balnhdhurr travels to Hobart with Ruby Alderton

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Ruby Djikara Alderton addresses the crowd at the opening of Balnhdhurr, photo courtesy of TMAG | Bitharr Maymuru, Rebecca Marika and Ruby Alderton with her kids Rhys and Ellen outside the Balnhdhurr exhibition TMAG, photo by Jo Foster

Yolngu artist Ruby Djikarra Alderton recently travelled to Hobart for the launch of Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. An exhibition of artworks from over 50 artists from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Balnhdhurr is a celebration of the Yirrkala Print Space and the rich diversity of Yolngu art and culture. Here, Ruby reflects on the significance of sharing Balnhdhurr with wider audiences and her journey to the southern island.

You recently made a trip to Hobart to launch Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression at the Tasmanian Museum an Art Gallery – how was it?

Tassie was really good – lots of fun. I had never been to Tasmania before so it was exciting to be invited to launch the exhibition. We also had some extra time to see a bit of Hobart. Bec (Munuyngu Marika) and Bitharr (Maymuru) came down from Yirrkala and we were very lucky that it wasn’t cold! We heard it had been snowing not that long ago – so it was a relief when it was warm summer weather.

It was the third time I’ve seen the Balnhdhurr Exhibition and each time it feels different – I suppose each space and each hang is different – it’s always surprising and really nice to see it! They did a great job at TMAG – it’s an unusual space as it is a museum and gallery, so there are lots of spaces feeding off this main central open room.

Hobart felt a long way from Yirrkala! You realise you are actually at the bottom of Australia – and these prints have travelled all the way from the very top of Australia. It was interesting actually, a few people at the gallery mentioned that Balnhdhurr was one of the only Indigenous travelling shows that TMAG has held. And you realise how hard it is for art from the Northern Territory to make it to Tasmania – especially from somewhere as remote as Yirrkala. It also seemed some people from Tasmania assumed Aboriginal art was a certain thing – mostly influenced by the Central Desert movement. It was interesting explaining therefore that it is a different thing for each and every clan, even within Yolngu area. And that this shifts across clans all across the country.

The exhibition was a great opportunity to start these conversations – it was really interesting explaining to people about Yirrkala and Yolngu culture – which is quite a contrast to Tasmania where Aboriginal people were so heavily hit by colonisation and are working hard to reconnect to language and culture. Often Yolngu forget how lucky we are to maintain language and culture.

Why is it important for Yirrkala artists to have these opportunities to showcase work?

Exhibitions like Balnhdhurr have major impacts for artists. Especially for young and emerging artists who don’t usually get access to galleries or exhibitions. With Balnhdhurr this is really important for the artists doing contemporary work – as Yolngu art exhibitions are often clan based – so work like the self-portraits don’t get shown. It is definitely exciting. It is showing people what Indigenous contemporary art can be!

You ran a printmaking workshop with local Aboriginal artists – how was this?

Doing the workshop with the local crew there was really amazing. It was really important to hear about Tasmania from their perspective. The history there is really significant – and there was a lot talking about what happened and what had been lost, almost as an introduction and explanation. The artists were really impressive and it was great to meet new people – it would be amazing if they could come to Yirrkala and we could share our story too. The Art School was a really elite space – we were laughing with them about how different it was at the Yirrkala Print Space – with our basic facilities!

Read more about the Balnhdhurr – A Lasting Impression exhibition here and check out the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre online Print Store to purchase directly from the Yirrkala Print Space.