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).

EXHI015497
Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1928-98
Untitled 1971-72
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
73.0 x 51.0 cm
Australian Museum, Sydney
© 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
EXHI015532
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri
Pintupi c.1926-98
Big Cave Dreaming with ceremonial object 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
91.1 x 63.8 cm
John and Barbara Wilkerson, New York, USA
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
EXHI015537
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
Pintupi/Luritja c.1925-2001
Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
80.0 x 75.0 cm
John and Barbara Wilkerson, New York, USA
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
EXHI015543
Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi
Pintupi c.1921-99
The Trial 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
76.0 x 40.5 cm
John and Barbara Wilkerson, New York, USA
© 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
EXHI015612
Freddy West Tjakamarra
Pintupi c.1940-95
Men’s ceremony (Wati Kutjarra) 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
45.5 x 31.5 cm
Private collection, Sydney
Photo: Jenni Carter
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
EXHI015667
John Tjakamarra
Pintupi c.1937-2002
Men and women 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
71.0 x 51.0 cm
Collection of Eva & Robert Shaye, USA
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
EXHI015668
Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri
Anmatyerr born c.1927
Yala (Wild Potato) Dreaming 1971
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
54.5 x 46.0 cm
Collection of Eva and Robert Shaye, USA
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

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