Tjukurrtjanu TjukurrtjanuTjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art

NGV NGVNGV: 150 years Museum VictoriaMuseum Victoria Papanya Tula ArtistsPapanya Tula Artists

  • An NGV Touring Exhibition
  • 30 September 2011 – 12 February 2012
  • The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia,
  • Federation Square, Melbourne
  • 9 October 2012 – 20 January 2013
  • Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art examines a watershed moment in the history of art when a painting practice emerged at Papunya in Central Australia. Tjukurrtjanu gives prominence to 200 of the first paintings produced at Papunya between 1971 and 1972 and also establishes the vital connection between the works of art and their sources in ephemeral designs made for use in ceremony.

A collaboration between the NGV and Museum Victoria.
In partnership with Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd.

This website contains the names, images and works of Indigenous people who have passed away, which may cause distress to some Indigenous people.

Indigenous people from Central Australia and the Western Desert are advised that this exhibition contains culturally sensitive works that may be considered harmful or inappropriate for viewing by women or uninitiated members of their communities. Care has been taken to respect cultural protocols and, following a comprehensive consultation process, these works will be exhibited separately for the duration of the exhibition and will not be illustrated in the exhibition catalogue or displayed on this website.

Please note that some records contain terms and annotations that reflect the period in which the item was recorded, and may be considered inappropriate today in some circumstances.

Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi (Pintupi c. 1921–1999)

Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi was one of the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met. In many ways he was a naturally good teacher who enjoyed introducing anyone with a genuine interest, to his country and discussing other aspects of traditional Pintupi culture. (R. G. (Dick) Kimber, 2011)

Born at Tjitururrnga west of Walungurru, Wartuma's family was one of the first of the Pintupi to move eastwards, settling in Haasts Bluff in 1930. Here in 1936, Wartuma was given the name Charlie by which he was subsequently known.

He was employed as a builder at Hermannsburg before working on military camps around Adelaide River, south of Darwin during World War II. After the war he travelled by camel on hunting trips to Pintupi country where dingo scalps would be exchanged for rations and also brought food to his countrymen and women still living nomadically in the desert.

Wartuma and his wife Tatali Nangala moved to Papunya at its inception, where he became one of the founding Papunya artists. He produced iconic depictions of Yam, Water and Snake and due to his familiarity and ease with Europeans he became a spokesman for the Pintupi artists.

Wartuma travelled with Andrew Crocker to England and Hong Kong in 1982 and to Amsterdam in 1983, where he participated in a performance of Nightsea Crossing with performance artists Ulay and Marina Abramovic. He was the first Papunya artist to have a retrospective exhibition, held at Orange Regional Gallery in 1987, where his well known statement was first published: 'If I don't paint this story some whitefella might come and steal my country.'

Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi 1973
Pintupi c.1921-99
Photo © Allan Scott


  • Ad100413
    Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi
    Pintupi c.1921–99
    Old Man’s Dreaming at Mitukatjirri 1972
    gouache on composition board
    32.7 x 65.1 cm
    National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
    Gift of Mrs Douglas Carnegie OAM, 1988
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
  • EXHI015543
    Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi
    Pintupi c.1921-99
    The Trial 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    76.0 x 40.5 cm
    John and Barbara Wilkerson, New York, USA
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

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