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.

Uta Uta Tjangala (Pintupi c. 1926–1990)

Uta Uta was what English people would have called a cock-sparrow of a man, always alert. Like virtually all Pintupi warriors of that era, he carried two spears and a mirru (spear thrower) whenever he walked anywhere, and sometimes a boomerang in his belt. He had a short beard, and wore a red-ochred hair-string or red woollen yakirri, the headband indicating manhood. (R. G. (Dick) Kimber, 2011)

Born at Dovers Hills, west of present-day Kiwirrkura, Uta Uta's conception site was Ngurrapulangu, occasioned when his mother ate the seeds of a mungilpa plant, which associated him with the Old Man Dreaming that runs from Kampurarrpa to Yumari. During the severe drought of the mid 1950s, Uta Uta and his family were led by Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi eastwards to Haasts Bluff.

An expressive and dynamic dancer and a foremost authority on men's ritual, Uta Uta was one of the Pintupi artists who made pencil drawings on the verandah of Geoffrey Bardon's flat. He readily embraced the new medium of painting in acrylic on board in the Men's Painting Room and created intense and powerful invocations of place, marked by a totality of gesture.

A fierce advocate for the outstation movement, Uta Uta spent most of the 1970s at Yayayi west of Papunya and moved to Walungurru in 1981. Thereafter he created several masterworks, working with a team of Pintupi assistants drawn from outlying communities in the Gibson Desert. As his children grew older he was concerned that they should visit and become familiar with the main sites and songs of their ngurra (home country), to ensure that this knowledge lives on.

Uta Uta Tjangala
Pintupi c.1926-90
Photo © John Corker


  • EXHI015401
    Uta Uta Tjangala
    Pintupi c.1926-90
    Women’s Dreaming 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    45.0 x 37.0 cm
    Stephen Bush, Coffs Harbour, New South Wales
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • EXHI015508
    Uta Uta Tjangala
    Pintupi c.1926-90
    Snake Dreaming for children 1972
    synthetic polymer paint on composition board
    41.0 x 61.0 cm
    National Museum of Australia, Canberra
    Purchased, 2008
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
  • EXHI015593

    The title identifies this painting within the corpus of works associated with the Old Man's Dreaming. This ancestral being, yina who travelled from Kampurarrnga in the Henty Hills, through Ngurrapalangu and Yumari and on westwards – traversing almost precisely the plains area through which Pintupi people moved back and forth in pre-contact times. The ‘Old Man’ is known particularly for having had intercourse with a tabooed category of relative, his ‘mother-in-law’ at Yumari, ‘mother-in-law’ place, for which transgression he suffered an attack of ants on his penis. There are, of course, many distinctive sites on the Old Man’s path. This painting is connected to the site area of Yumari, but not so much to the rockhole itself. The figure in the upper left corner is likely the Old Man himself. The meandering black line below him connected to a concentric circle in the lower left corner is the mark left by him dragging his penis towards the mother-in-law’s vagina, a feature of the rock outcropping. In the centre of the painting, the six oblong features probably represent the ‘standing rocks’ that stand to the south of the Yumari rockhole – a formation called Tilirrangarranya (light the fire and stand) where the Old Man stood by the fire and decorated himself the morning after. This feature was often represented in the overt form of ritual objects in early paintings.

    Uta Uta Tjangala
    Pintupi c.1926-90
    Old Man’s Dreaming 1983
    synthetic polymer paint on canvas
    242.0 x 362.0 cm
    Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
    South Australian Government Grant, 1984 (844P11)
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

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