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.


The inland deserts of Australia differ from other arid deserts around the world due to the huge variations in rainfall which allows groups of plants, unique to the Central and Western Deserts, to prosper. The Anmatyerr and Arandic landscapes of mulga flats and gibber plains are punctuated by the dramatic mountains of Karrinyarra and the Western MacDonell Ranges. Further west, the Pintupi terrain of rolling sand dune fields and spinifex hills are interrupted by the vast salt lakes of Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) and Kaakurutintjinya (Lake Macdonald).

During long periods of unrelenting drought, Aboriginal people across the desert have been sustained by their knowledge of the location of numerous water sources, including rock holes and soakage waters that are fed by underground springs. The landscapes of Central Australia and the Western Desert and the paths of its underground springs were shaped by the actions and events of ancestral beings during the creation period known as the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming).

Show artists country:
Tjukurttjanu map Tjukurttjanu map

Map illustration: Ngaire Wex


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