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.


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.

The powerful iconographic language and philosophy of these paintings is tjukurrtjanu (from the Dreaming): it communicates the artists’ intimate connection with men’s ritual, hallowed sites in their country and the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming).

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Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
Pintupi/Luritja c.1925–2001
A bush tucker story 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
91.4 x 66.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of North Broken Hill Ltd, Fellow, 1987
(O.48-1987)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1921–99
Old Man’s Dreaming at Mitukatjirri 1972
gouache on composition board
32.7 x 65.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Douglas Carnegie OAM, 1988
(O.31-1988)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra
Pintupi/Luritja born c. 1932
Emu Dreaming 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
64.7 x 62.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1987
(O.22–1987)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Wartanuma is the Pintupi word for a particular species of flying ant and is also the name of a claypan and soakage water site northwest of Walungurru. The Wartunuma (Flying Ant) Dreaming travelled west from Wantungurru on Alcoota Station to Kilpirrnga south east of Jupiter Well, in the Gibson Desert. Kilpirrnga is a hill site with a large cave, which is represented by a rectangular shape towards the bottom. The concentric circles towards the top show the camps of three old men who had gathered for ceremonies and were sitting on the crest of the hill.

This work shows the daring simplicity and expansiveness of Tjampitjinpa’s mature style, in which flat blocks of colour are dominant and one or more geometric motifs are writ large, resulting in work of power and muscular presence. In Tjampitjinpa’s work, the scale and iconography of a ritual object or body design is transformed into that of a monumental ground painting.

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa
Pintupi born c.1943
Wartunuma (Flying Ant) Dreaming 1991
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
153.0 x 183.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by anonymous donors, 2006 (2006.12)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri
Anmatyerr c.1929–1984
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
Anmatyerr c.1932–2002
Spirit Dreaming through Napperby country 1980
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
207.7 x 670.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1988
(O.33-1988)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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This multi-layered and deeply personal collaborative work is visionary in its dimension and symphonic complexity, reaching out to encompass multiple Dreamings in a mythological topography. Perhaps, as Geoffrey Bardon suggested, Tim Leura was considering the course of his life while painting the epic canvas. Journeying through time as he paints, Tim Leura depicts conception and birth in the Possum country of Laramba through to his experience as a post-initiate witnessing malierra ceremonies, and his developing maturity as an artist who realised that his work would live on in a printed form.

In an era when postmodernism was yet to find its feet in Australian art, Tim Leura incorporated in the work copies of three of his previous paintings, two of which had just been published by Bardon in the first monograph on the Western Desert art movement. The skeletal spirit figure perhaps represents Tim Leura's father in transition from the 'living world' into the Dreaming, conveying how time in the past is continuous with that of the present in Anmatyerr belief.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
Pintupi/Luritja c.1925–2001
Kampurarrpa 1974
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
168.5 x 330.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1985 (O.5-1985)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Ronnie Tjampitjinpa
Pintupi born c.1943
Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2006
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152.2 x 182.5 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1928–98
Snake and Water Dreaming 1972
earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on composition board
56.5 x 49.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Douglas Carnegie OAM, 1989
(O.9-1989)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1920–87
Untitled 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
67.7 x 46.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Ltd, Fellow, 1988
(O.10-1988)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Mick Wallangkarri Tjakamarra
Kukatja/Ngalia c.1905–96
Old man's Dreaming on death or destiny 1971
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
60.9 x 45.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of North Broken Hill Ltd, Fellow, 1987
(O.49–1987)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Anatjari Tjakamarra
Ngaatjatjarra/Pintupi c.1930–92
Big Pintupi Dreaming ceremony 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
51.5 x 43.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of North Broken Hill Ltd, Fellow, 1987
(O.51–1987)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1920–87
Men in a Bushfire 1972
enamel paint on composition board
64.2 x 50.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of North Broken Hill Ltd, Fellow, 1987
(O.55-1987)
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists

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