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 anthropologists Baldwin Spencer (1860–1929) and Francis Gillen (1855–1912) amassed the most influential collection of Australian ethnographic material ever assembled. It is composed of thousands of objects, photographs, expedition diaries, drawings and some of the earliest ethnographic sound and film footage ever recorded. They acquired their collection at a time when Aboriginal people in Central Australia were relatively unaffected by European contact (between 1875 and 1923) and as such it constitutes one of the most comprehensive inventories of a regional Aboriginal group in existence.

Their work had a decisive influence on the early development of anthropology as an academic discipline, particularly in Europe. In his 1913 review of Spencer and Gillen's book Across Australia, Malinowski commented, 'Since the publication of their first volume, half the total production of anthropological literature has been based on their work and nine tenths affected or modified by it.'

Their influence was felt in several other branches of the social sciences. One of the foundational figures of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, based his famous tome The Elementary Forms of Religious Life on Spencer and Gillen's ethnography. Similarly, Sigmund Freud's Totem and Taboo was primarily inspired by Spencer and Gillen's work on Aboriginal religious belief.

Their extensive collection and published works continue to shape the production of knowledge about past and present Aboriginal life in both anthropology and the popular imagination. Just as importantly, it also provides an invaluable cultural archive for the descendants of the Aboriginal people with whom Spencer and Gillen worked in Central Australia: the Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Kaytej, Warumunga, Luritja and Arabana people who still have a substantial presence in the region.

Related images

Arrernte active 1900s
Headband early 1900s
fur string, earth pigments
36.0 x 6.0 x 2.5 cm
Museum Victoria, Melbourne
Gift from Baldwin Spencer, 1902 (X9560)
© Museum Victoria 2011 / Photographer Benjamin Healley
Warumungu active 1890s
Forehead ornament early 1890s
kangaroo teeth, spinifex resin
17.3 x 20.5 x 1.0 cm
Museum Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Francis Gillen, 1899 (X5374)
© Museum Victoria 2011 / Photographer Benjamin Healley
Arrernte active 1900s
Necklace 1902
fur string, bandicoot tail tips
29.0 x 22.0 x 5.0 cm
Museum Victoria, Melbourne
Gift from Baldwin Spencer, 1902 (X9622)
© Museum Victoria 2011 / Photographer Benjamin Healley