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.


These shields were manufactured by Aboriginal men primarily for fighting but they were also used on ceremonial occasions. Depending on the nature of the ceremony, certain iconographic designs were painted on the surface of the shield and employed in different parts of the ritual to evoke the power of ancestral beings originating in the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming). Like the iconography in the early paintings, the designs represent certain events and activities relating to the ancestral heroes as they wandered across the landscape. The design that appears on shield number X 14024 relates to an important ancestor of the Warumungu people, Pukulungara. He is connected with a Wind Dreaming site situated around the Davenport Range, south of Tennant Creek in Central Australia. The meandering lines that curl and skip across the surface of the shield are reminiscent of the turbulent gusts of wind, or 'willy willies' that blow hither and thither across the Western Desert, producing great columns of dust and flying debris. Similarly, every design painted on the shields here represents an ancestral being relating to an actual Dreaming site, all of which are maintained and celebrated by living custodians.

Related images

INST013913
Group of decorated shields from Central Australia
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
INST013925
Group of decorated shields from Central Australia
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

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