Gurrundul #1 Marawili
Earth pigments on Stringybark
Ṉäḏi ga Guṉdirr (Meat ants and Termite mounds) Gurrundul
Gurrundul is the daughter of the famous artist Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda who died in early 2021.
In honour of her mother Gurrundul decided to carry on the theme of Termite mounds and Meat ants which her mpther’s last major exhibition at the MCA featured.
The story of how that genre was reached is contained in the following documentation from those pieces.
“This work is an extension of a phase where the artist of her own motion 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 (after they had met during the Djalkiri project of 2010) and the two spent an extended period exploring the botany of Blue Mud Bay. John Wolseley spent a week at Yilpara with Mulkuṉ in May 2012 and again at Yirrkala in June 2013, June 2014 and then May and December 2015. The visits continued in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Mulkuṉ has been finding new ways to paint and promote nutritional plants that are no longer eaten widely. As a child there were very many healthy old people and now there are few. In those days old people lived for a long time without illness. She blames poor diet and the loss of knowledge.
In 2017 accompanying Mulkuṉ and John Wolseley’s NMA show Miḏawarr | Harvest, the book of the same name was published with words by Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda (MW), Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs (MGS), Greg Leach (GL) and Glenn Wightman (GW).
Following this theme she moved on to painting varieties of Maypal or shellfish and these were exhibited in a sold out show at Salon in Darwin in August 2018. This then morphed to a series of work where she painted shellfish which lived symbiotically with edible plants.
In this work she has continued with the concept of symbioses and in this case eusociality. She has depicted the relationship between munyukuluŋu Magnetic termites Amitermes meridionalis, or compass termite, a species of eusocial insect in the family Termitidae. It is endemic to northern Australia and the common names derive from the fact that the wedge-shaped mound is aligned with its main axis running north and south and ŋäḏi, Northern Meat Ants, Iridomyrmex sanguineus.
Mulkuṉ painted these idiosyncratic termite mounds inhabited not by their makers but by their symbiotic partners the meat ant. This is an example of empirical observational Yolŋu knowledge. She paints it as common knowledge but an internet search reveals this to be scientific esoterica. When the harvest time comes it is common for women to gather large numbers of yams and to create a guṉdirr (ground oven) which is named after the fragments of termite mounds which would be placed on top of the large fire in a pit to retain the heat once it is covered with paperbark. This is the source of her knowledge.
Yamada et al. (2007): Mounds of the termite Amitermes laurensis in northern Queensland, Australia, are frequently invaded and occupied by the meat ant Iridomyrmex sanguineus, but their interactions remain unclear. In 1999, 68 A. laurensis mounds that were mapped and examined for the presence of the meat ants in 1998 were studied by destructive sampling, and the occupancy percentages of the termites were compared during the 2 years of meat ant occupation. The results indicate that the occupancy percentages of the termites in the intact mounds (79%) are significantly different from those in the mounds that were occupied by the meat ants in 1998 (58%), 1999 (42%), or both (20%). Although the mean vales showed apparent differences, no significant difference was observed in the occupancy percentages among the latter three cases. Our results suggest that the meat ants are not lethal invaders of the termite mounds and that the recovery of the termite populations occurs after the meat ants abandon the mounds.’