Zugubal : The Winds and Tides set the Pace (2023)
VIDEO DURATION | 5 minutes
From the curator
Drawing on imagery from his large-scale vinylcut print commissioned for Shadow Spirit, Brian Robinson has collaborated with a team of animators and musicians to bring the story of Zugubal to life through immersive sound and animation. Through this work you are in a Torres Strait Island celestial story, the star and spirit ecologies of country share thousands of generations of knowledge with you. They guide us through the seasons and give us a deep sense of country and the cosmos.
Indigenous astronomy existed long before the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Astronomical phenomena informed lore and social structure and also served as the foundation for mythological narratives that have been passed down generations through song, dance and oral traditions.
Because of their seafaring lifestyle, Torres Strait Islanders have always relied on their sophisticated understanding of the stars, the seasons, the weather, the winds and the currents both for navigation and for identifying appropriate times to gather, nurture or avoid food plants and animals. In Islander mythology, celestial beings (star constellations) are known as Zugubal, powerful spirits who influenced the environment and climate, which in turn set the course and rhythm for community life.
The best known of the Zugubal is Tagai and Baidam. Tagai is a grand constellation which includes stars from several different Western constellations – Crux (Southern Cross), Centaurus (centaur), Lupus (wolf) and Corvus (crow), Tagai’s position heralds seasonal changes, including the monsoon, and is an aid in navigation. Tagai can be seen in the southern skies, standing in a canoe in the Milky Way. His left hand is the Southern Cross, which holds a spear. His right hand is a group of stars in the constellation of Corvus which is holding a fruit called Eugina (Surinam Cherry). He is standing on his canoe, formed by the stars of Scorpius. Tagai was a great fisherman. One day he and his crew of 12 were fishing from their outrigger canoe. They were unable to catch any fish, so Tagai left the canoe and went onto the nearby reef to look for fish there. As the day grew hotter and hotter, the waiting crew of Zugubals (beings who took on human form when they visited Earth) grew impatient and frustrated. Their thirst grew, but the only drinking water in the canoe belonged to Tagai. Their patience ran out and they drank Tagai’s water.
When Tagai returned, he was furious that the Zugubals had consumed all of his water for the voyage. In his rage he killed all 12 of his crew. He returned them to the sky and placed them in two groups: six men in Usal (Pleiades) and the other six in Utimal (Orion). He told his crew to stay in the northern sky and to keep away from him. Baidam, the great shark constellation, is made up of the seven major stars of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) together with Arcturus (Alpha Bootis) and Gamma Corona Borealis.
When these stars appear in the northern skies over Papua New Guinea during the dry season (mid-October to late November), Islanders follow set daily activities. In the sky Gainau, the majestic Torresian pigeons, and Birubiru, the rainbow bird, migrate back to the Australian mainland while Awai, the pelican, is seen flying over the dry swamps in search of food.
Dollar birds are also seen flying through the scrub in pursuit of insects. In the sea, the mating season of Waru the green turtle has commenced. Dhangal have given birth to their calves and Akul, the mangrove mussels, and Zaber are in abundance. Large schools of Tup head out to sea to spawn and Tupmul are found gliding in the shallow waters near the beach. The stars slowly rotate across the night sky under the watchful eye of the old men. When the tail of the shark is above the horizon, the north-west winds begin to blow slightly. When the tail can no longer be seen, the sound of the first thunder can be heard.
Gardening becomes one of the primary tasks on land. Plots are tilled and prepared and food crops such as banana, sweet potato, sugar cane, varieties of yams and maniotha (cassava) are planted. When Baidam appears again, yams, sweet potatoes and bananas have ripened and are ready to be harvested and eaten. Understanding the environment and its connection to the Zugubal is very important to Torres Strait Islanders. Their continued existence relies on this ingrained survival knowledge – life lessons that are taught to children from early childhood.
As you enter Brian’s installation you first walk towards a large black wall that has a vinyl-cut print hung on it. The vinyl-cut print is 2 meters long by 1 meter high. It is black and white and tells a story of Torres Strait Islander celestial beings, seasonal relationships to land and also incorporates popular cultural references from Star Wars, Star Trek, Futurama, Dr. Who, Wall-E and spacecrafts such as the Hubble Telescope and Sputnik. There are many animals represented in the work - sea turtle, pelicans, stingray, crocodile, mangrove mussels, goanna, barracuda, sawfish, sardine, Queenfish, frigate birds and a Torresian Imperial pigeon. There are also cultural motifs, designs and characters that represent the zugubal.
There is a moon and sun and yam vines growing along the print. There is the northwest wind (Kuki) and southeast wind (Sager) represented by masked figures blowing wind. There is a European sailing ship from the 19th century and a traditional Torres Strait outrigger canoe. There are many star constellations also represented across the print including two asteroids that are named after two Torres Strait leaders, Dr Martin Nakata and Segar Passi.
HEAR FROM THE COLLABORATORS
Through a series written responses, Shadow Spirit collaborators take us deep into the exhibition's ideas and the expertise that helped bring these works together. In this short essay S1T2 Art Director/Lead Animator Tunpitcha Ladapornvitaya tells us how they helped bring the print to life.
Zugubal: The Winds and Tides set the Pace (2023)
Brian Robinson (Maluyligal/ Wuthathi)
Animation | S1T2
S1T2 Animation Director | Nicky Tunpitcha Ladapornvitaya
S1T2 Technical Director | Liam Stephens
S1T2 Producer | Jananthan Kandsasmy
Audio Recording and Mixing | Terry Meehan
Musician | Joel Sam (Guda Maluyligal)
Ina Baw recorded with permission of Gabriel and Dimple Bani (TSI/QLD) - Maluyligal