Pick up the phone – Gapuwiyak is calling: Aboriginal Mobile Art

Can you hear it? Gapuwiyak is calling. Pick up the phone already!


Where is Gapuwiyak? Gapuwiyak is an Australian Aboriginal community located in north-eastern Arnhem Land.

Who is making the call? The Yolngu, a clan who lives in the region. According to the Yolngu, “Phones are everywhere. We use them out hunting, even in ceremonies. We watch YouTube, search Google, send photos, texts and video calls; we organize banking, holidays and rituals, all through the phone.”

Who are they calling? Why, you of course! They also use their phones to make mobile art. They take videos, creating new forms of song and dance. They take photos, creating a modern collages that reproduce traditional forms of art. And they want to share it with you. “We curated this exhibition to share Yolngu life. We want to show that our young people are smart. They can use phones to make us laugh—and also to strengthen kinship and culture.”

The exhibit can be seen today through Sunday at my museum, the American Museum of Natural History. It is called Gapuwiyak Callingbecause, according to the artists, “now we’re calling you through our phones, calling so you can connect to us. We’re grabbing hold of new possibilities using these little things. Maybe you’ll answer us?”

When I visited the exhibit I met Warren, one of the Yolngu artists, who showed me how mobile photos combined family images with family totems, like flags and frogs (and not to worry, the children shown inside the mouth of a shark was just a construction). He showed me the black towers pictured above where you can watch how Yolngu makes videos of songs and dance to share with family and friends.

The phone is ringing but is only here on display until Sunday. It is a remarkable look into how a native people can reaffirm and transmit traditional cultural traditions through digital media.

I recommend you answer this call.

(and if you miss it, be sure to check out the Gapuwiyak Calling web site.)

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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