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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.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009

Guy Maestri

oil on linen (frame: 203.0 cm x 172.4 cm, support: 197.5 x 167.0)

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (1970–2017), a man of the Gumatj clan of north east Arnhem Land, was born blind but learned to play guitar, keyboard, drums and didgeridoo as a child. He performed with Yothu Yindi from 1985 to 1992, when he formed the Saltwater Band. Gurrumul shot to prominence in 2008 with the release of his debut album Gurrumul, which was nominated for four ARIAs and won two. Critics raved about his unearthly voice, his successful fusion of music styles and his authentic Aboriginal sound and stories. The Age critic called his release, Rrakala (2011), ‘the definitive Australian folk record of our times’; in a cover article Rolling Stone called him ‘Australia’s most important voice’. Gurrumul sang about Gumatj stories in Yolngu, but his song ‘Gurrumul History’ was in English, the better to spread his story. ‘I like singing about the story properly, singing all the right names of land, and ancestors, because I have to give out the right story. It is like a celebration,’ he once said.

Guy Maestri saw Gurrumul perform in Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2008 and arranged a hasty sitting with the musician soon after. He worked on the painting for a month, listening to Gurrumul’s music as he built layer upon layer. The portrait won the Archibald Prize for 2009.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2011
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Guy Maestri

Accession number: 2011.50

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Guy Maestri (age 35 in 2009)

Dr Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (age 39 in 2009)

Subject professions

Indigenous identity

Performing arts

Related information

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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.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri

Dr G Yunupingu

Magazine article, 2017

Dr G Yunupingu (1970-2017), a man of the Gumatj clan of north-east Arnhem Land, learned to play guitar, keyboard, drums and didgeridoo as a child.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 2009 Guy Maestri

Yolngu boy

Magazine article by Ashleigh Wadman, 2011

Guy Maestri’s portrait of the musician was conceived after the artist saw Gurrumul perform in Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2008.

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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.