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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

John Bulunbulun

1986
Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper, edition 2/30 (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 25.3 cm x 25.3 cm)

John Bulunbulun (1946-2010), Ganalbingu (Yolgnu) painter and printmaker, healer and ceremonial singer, grew up on the island of Milingimbi and in Bulman in southern Arnhem Land. He began to paint in the early 1970s, when he also began his career as an arts adviser. At the end of the 1970s he went with his wife to establish an outstation at Gamardi, where he painted with Jack Wunuwun. During this time Bulunbulun received several grants and a fellowship from the Aboriginal Arts Board and was on the Advisory Committee for the arts at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. He was one of the first indigenous artists to make limited-edition prints, and one of the first to make lithographs. A lawsuit he brought against a garment-making firm in 1989 led to the establishment of copyright protection for Aboriginal artworks. Having gained a professional fellowship from the Australia Council in 1991, in 1994 he travelled to Sulawesi with a group of Yolngu performers to enact a ceremony that re-established relations between the Galanbingu and the Makasar people. Bulunbulunn’s work, characterised by fine, shimmery crosshatching and often featuring his spiritual animal, the guwaynang or long-necked freshwater turtle, is held by all major Australian galleries and has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally.

Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

John Bulunbulun (age 40 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)

Big shots

Magazine article by Djon Mundine OAM, 2017

Djon Mundine OAM brings poignant memory and context to Martin van der Wal’s 1986 portrait photographs of storied Aboriginal artists.

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The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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