Australian Aboriginal artist Gulumbu Yunupingu (c.1943–2012) instantiated some of the characteristics of a prophet. Yunupingu began to paint in obedience to a command given her in a visionary experience (Eccles 2012). This prophetic painting mission began in the last decade of her life.
Garak [The Universe] IV does not depict the constellations her people revere as sacred. Instead, it shows those ordinary stars anyone may see against a dark night sky. Yunupingu only painted using natural ochres. The flattened eucalyptus bark panel of Garak IV is covered with meticulously-rendered simple crosses in white, over-painted with a finer brush in black. Influenced by her father’s paintings, a yellow dot is placed centrally in each one, suggesting astral eyes. These stars not only receive our upward gaze, but also return it. As her mother had once told her when a child, sometimes the stars shed tears over us.
White dots on the red ground infill gaps, sometimes jostling the cross-forms. These are the stars our eyes cannot see which are nevertheless present in the universe. Even those stars we can see fade from our vision at daylight. Conversely, our immediate local world vanishes in night-time dark. Different conditions reveal or conceal the same objects.
Seeing differently, so as to reveal the unseen, characterizes the vocations of both prophets and artists. Yunupingu saw in myriad stars a metaphor for myriad people (Perkins 2010: 232). Her astral sea swells and swirls rhythmically, effected by the subtly differing star sizes, densities, rotations, and angles. Her painted distillation of the universe is one where no presence is overlooked. In her hands, it becomes a patterned evocation of inter-connectedness; a vision of unity.
Habakkuk, too, finds inspiration through attending to God’s work. Although the work of divine salvation evokes dread and awe (Habakkuk 3:2–16), Habakkuk is finally calmed, able to anticipate the light of restored order, even in blinding darkness.
Stars appear to us as we prepare to sleep. In that altered state, we may dream. In this different type of seeing, we may participate in the visual readjustments of prophet and artist.
Eccles, Jeremy. 2012. ‘Artist Saw the Stars Crying, 13 June 2012’, www.smh.com.au, [accessed 24 September 2020]
Perkins, Hetti. 2010. Art + Soul: A Journey into the World of Aboriginal Art (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press)
Skerritt, Henry F. (ed.). 2016. Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, from the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection (Prestel: Nevada Museum of Art and DelMonico Books)
3 A prayer of Habakʹkuk the prophet, according to Shigionʹoth.
2O Lord, I have heard the report of thee,
and thy work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years renew it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise. Selah
4His brightness was like the light,
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
5Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
6He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered,
the everlasting hills sank low.
His ways were as of old.
7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midʹian did tremble.
8Was thy wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was thy anger against the rivers,
or thy indignation against the sea,
when thou didst ride upon thy horses,
upon thy chariot of victory?
9Thou didst strip the sheath from thy bow,
and put the arrows to the string. Selah
Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.
10The mountains saw thee, and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice,
it lifted its hands on high.
11The sun and moon stood still in their habitation
at the light of thine arrows as they sped,
at the flash of thy glittering spear.
12Thou didst bestride the earth in fury,
thou didst trample the nations in anger.
13Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people,
for the salvation of thy anointed.
Thou didst crush the head of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14Thou didst pierce with thy shafts the head of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15Thou didst trample the sea with thy horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
16I hear, and my body trembles,
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones,
my steps totter beneath me.
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
17Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.