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.

John Tjakamarra (Pintupi c. 1937–2002)

John was one of the three most silent of all of the Pintupi men I have ever known. Most of his talking was by hand-signs or a pointing of the chin, the latter a conventional way of indicating direction shared by all older generations of Aboriginal peoples of the Western Desert. He spoke but a few words for the entire day [on our journey to his country], yet he was vitally interested and animated the whole time. (Dick Kimber, 2011)

John Tjakamarra was born in country west of Tjukurla and travelled widely across the region southwest of Kaakurutintjinya (Lake Macdonald) until his early manhood, when he first encountered Europeans. In 1963 he travelled to Papunya by means of a Weapons Research Establishment patrol, which assisted a number of Pintupi people as they attempted the long walk from Dovers Hills in Western Australia.

At Papunya, John Tjakamarra worked as a farmhand and made a number of pencil drawings on Geoffrey Bardon's verandah in 1971, before joining others in the Men's Painting Room. His early paintings are of finely delineated Tingarri compositions finished in a filigree of fine dotting.

In 1981, together with 300 fellow Pintupi, John Tjakamarra moved back to Walungurru where he continued to paint for another decade.

During the early 1990s, he settled in Tjukurla, closer to his birthplace, which curtailed his painting.

John Tjakamarra
Pintupi c.1937-2002
Photo © John Corker


  • EXHI015667
    John Tjakamarra
    Pintupi c.1937-2002
    Men and women 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    71.0 x 51.0 cm
    Collection of Eva & Robert Shaye, USA
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • EXHI015407
    John Tjakamarra
    Pintupi c.1937-2002
    Man’s Dreaming c.1971
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    50.5 x 50.0 cm
    Private collection, Melbourne
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

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