The exhibition RISE3: Mangrove Thinking is part three in a series that flags sea-level rise and the ways that artists think with forms of art to make ‘invisible’ impacts of climate change visible. Mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs work together with tides and currents, rising and falling like lungs. The reefs protect the seagrass beds and mangroves and coasts from strong ocean waves, cyclones and tsunami.
RISE3: Mangrove Thinking introduces the art of Muluymuluy Wirrpanda the younger sister of acclaimed artist Ms. M. Wirrpanda, a learned and generous mentor for many. The Yolngu sisters are elders of the Dhudi-Djapu clan of the Dhuwa moiety of north east Arnhem Land. Art by the sisters presents the beauty and fragility of the earth and its ecosystems: here, the interconnection of mangroves with molluscs in the tidal zone. The leaves falling from dense branches circulate nutrients; their art shares the knowledge.
Muluymuluy’s paintings have power and presence: created by a restrained use of the classic oche colours of yellow, white and black and striking compositions that highlight the complex architecture of roots and leaves. Roots form intricate arches, buttresses and tangled cables; counter-balanced by dense branches and canopy. The roots filter nitrates and phosphates from the streams and enable breathing in several ways down to small pneumatophores or snorkel roots.
Ms Wirrpanda was a revolutionary artist and key to many of the most prescient exhibitions of the past decade: the cross-cultural Djalkiri: We are standing on their names - Blue Mud Bay (Nomad, Darwin 2013 and tour including to UTS Gallery Sydney); Ms Wirrpanda and John Wolsley Midawarr/Harvest (National Museum of Australia, 2017) and Molluscs / Maypal and the warming of the seas at Geelong Art Gallery, based on James Bentley’s magnificent book for collectors and children, Maypal, Mayali Ga Wänga: Shellfish, Meaning & Place (NAILSMA, 2018). Her works are astoundingly beautiful and painterly.
Will Stubbs’ essay Gathul-gärri / Into the Mangroves (2022) likens the joy of entering a cool forest to entering a cathedral. Artist Ruby Djikarra Alderton’s video shows a childhood of adventure and freedom playing amongst these magical trees and swimming in their golden waters.2 Ruby warns that the exquisite balance of the Gulf of Carpentaria’s mangrove ecosystem is failing. The ghostly death of the mangrove forests began along 1000km of the coast in late 2015 and continues. Sea-levels fell dramatically when the wet storm winds failed. Now the level is again dramatically rising. Rise and fall, rise and fail.