Bobby Bununngurr is a songman and multi art form creative from Ramingining (his outstation is Ngalayindi) in Central Arnhem Land. Bununngurr has an extensive oeuvre of work that spans music, painting, carving and film. As a child he had a love for art and a keen interest to learn about his culture, Yolŋu. After finishing school at Milingimbi Mission, he worked as a cowboy and stockman at Nangalala Station and later Murwangi Cattle Station near Mulgurrum in the Northern Territory. In the 2000s, Bununngurr learnt the skills of printmaking under textile artist and printmaker Lawrence Leslie, a Gauilaroi man from Gunnedah in New South Wales who had spent many years living in Ramingining as a screen printer. In 2013 he completed a Certificate II in Visual Art from Charles Darwin University.
As the Northern Territory artist for the 2019 Taiwan – Australia Indigenous Artist in Residence, Bununngur’s aspiration was to share his culture with audiences and be a role model for the next generation. Through his artistic practice and collaborations, the residency enabled him to develop and work on a suite of new projects.
It is important to me as an Elder to find opportunities for our young adults going out into the world [to see what I am doing]. My message is cultural support and unity for all people. The things that are important to me are what I sing and talk about.
Bununngurr’s art practice operates through Bula’bula Arts in Ramingining. He has exhibited in more than twenty group shows, is represented in private and public collections nationally and internationally and, in 1984, first exhibited in ‘Objects and Representations from Ramingining’ at the Power Institute (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Sydney, NSW. As part of the 2019 Taiwan – Australia Indigenous Artist in Residence program Bununngurr gave a talk at the National Taiwan Museum as part of the National Museum of Australia’s travelling exhibition, ‘Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists’, showcasing the work of Aboriginal painters from Arnhem Land, who carry one of the oldest continuing traditions of art into the modern era.
I want to make connections with people from all places in the world, that’s what will unite us in the end. Music and painting are how I spread the message. I’m looking forward to getting [to] and understanding of Taiwan culture. There is a link with Yolŋu people.
Bununngurr appeared in the 1968 documentary ‘Across the Top’, produced by filmmaker Malcolm Douglas recording the traditional life in Arnhem Land, the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York. In 2006, he made his screen debut as a lead canoeist in Rolf de Heer’s award winning film ‘10 Canoes’ which educated audiences about Yolŋu culture in Ramingining. As a part of the cultural exchange in Taiwan, Bununngurr produced a music clip with Remix Film Crew who collaborated with Nhulunbuy dancer and choreographer Rachael Wallis as part of the 2018 Taiwan – Australia Indigenous Artist in Residence program.
As a songman, painter and storyteller for his community, Bununngurr sings in his language Ganalbingu. During the 1970s and 80s he toured nationally and internationally with David Gulpili and with Waak Waak Djungi, a band Bununngurr formed with fellow song men Jimmy Djamanba and Peter Milanyga. In 1998 Waak Waak Djungi toured Japan, where they were welcomed by the Ainu people, the traditional people of Hokkaido. With producer and musician Allen Murphy, Bununngurr has toured the United States and records traditional and contemporary songs that mix beats, rhythms, acoustic drums, loops and spoken word.
If you don’t understand my language, you can still feel the spirit of my culture and message, which is something that I work hard at, making the music, draw you into my story.
Bununngurr and Murphy have been creating a new body of work ‘Longrass Symphony’ which will include pieces written for strings and a full rhythm section. Bununngurr, an ambassador and cultural leader for his community and clan, is taking this new body of work to Taiwan to develop and include multi-cultural collaborations. Some musical scores have been produced and pre-recorded in Ramingining and Darwin to develop, mix and dub during the cultural exchange. Bununngurr will be collaborating and working with Paiwan singer Sang Mei-Chuan, the 2018 Taiwan – Australia Indigenous Artist in Resident and with other Taiwanese Indigenous artists including Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj, Pairang Pavavalung and Etan Pavavalung. Nunung Puhay, Director of the Amis Music Festival met Bununggurr during the Darwin Festival and invited him to perform at this years Festival.
In Japan I worked with Japanese traditional musician Oki Kano and visited Oki’s homeland in Japan for live performance and collaboration. I am excited that this residency in Tawian is an opportunity for me both as a traditional singer and painter to develop as a true cultural and artistic ambassador and to work internationally again.
Read about Bobby Bununngurr’s experience as the Northern Territory Indigenous Artist in Resident in his ‘Behind the Scenes’ article Keep your mind strong and then you can go anywhere in the world