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.

Kaapa Tjampitjinpa (Anmatyerr/Warlpiri c. 1925–1989)

Kaapa was often the first Aboriginal person to introduce himself to newcomers to Papunya. He instantly sought to establish a relationship based on mutual interest and good humor. His candour was too much for many settlement officials who having been schooled in the assimilationist period bristled at his apparent disregard for their assumed authority. Kaapa was branded as a 'troublemaker', a necessary mediator to be sure but certainly not one to be trusted. (John Kean, 2011)

Kaapa was born at the Emu Dreaming site of Yaltjijira on the western edge of Anmatyerr country. He was initiated on Napperby Station where his family moved to escape the violence, which culminated in the Coniston Massacre of 1928. As a young man he worked as a stockman before settling in Haasts Bluff and moving to Papunya in 1957 when it was still under construction.

Prior to the emergence of painting at Papunya, Kaapa had already established himself as an independent artist. To supplement his meagre training allowance paid by the settlement authorities, Kaapa sold his carved wooden artefacts and watercolour paintings to support his family. His formative works illustrate elements of Anmatyerr ceremony in explicit figurative detail, which also became the focus of his works painted in the Men's Painting Room.

In August 1971, Kaapa led the painting of the Honey Ant Mural, which was produced in collaboration with senior custodians – who chose Kaapa for his mastery of the medium – and four other painters. In September 1971 Kaapa jointly won the Caltex Art Award in Alice Springs for his Men's Ceremony for the Kangaroo, Gulgardi. This breakthrough moment would propel the Papunya artists into the limelight through their forging of a radical style and iconography hitherto confined to the ceremonial ground.

Kaapa was instrumental in the establishment of Papunya Tula Artists, serving as the company's inaugural chairman in 1972 and as a board member throughout his painting life. His passing in 1989 coincided with the public acceptance of the movement that his genius had helped to inspire.

Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, July 1972
Anmatyerr/Warlpiri c.1925-89
Photo © Allan Scott


  • EXHI015193
    Kaapa Tjampitjinpa
    Anmatyerr/Warlpiri c.1925-89
    Men’s Ceremony for the Kangaroo, Gulgardi 1971
    watercolour on plywood
    61.0 x 137.0 cm
    Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
    Winner of the Caltex Art Award, 1971. Acquired by the Central Australian Art Society from the 1971 Caltex Art Award. Donated to the people of Alice Springs through the Alice Springs Town Council
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • EXHI015301
    Kaapa Tjampitjinpa
    Anmatyerr/Warlpiri c.1925-89
    Corroboree and body decoration 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    35.4 x 22.0 cm
    Beverly and Anthony Knight, Melbourne
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

More info