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.


Pintupi people from the Western Desert

Pintupi is the name of a Western Desert language spoken by Aboriginal people who belong to a large stretch of country in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia and the western edge of the Northern Territory. When the Pintupi arrived in the government settlements east of their traditional lands between the 1930s and the 1950s, they adopted the term 'Pintupi' to distinguish themselves from the surrounding Aboriginal inhabitants as the 'people from the west'. They were among the last Aboriginal people in Australia to abandon their nomadic lifestyle, the last family arriving into the newly established community of Kiwirrkura in 1984. In Papunya, the Pintupi, bound to each other by their dominant loyalties of relatedness and kinship, were ostracised due to their lack of conversance with kartiya (non-Aboriginal) customs and their perceived lack of sophistication.

It is useful to separate the initiatives of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa and his Anmatyerr countrymen – workers on cattle stations who were influenced by the example of the Namatjira School – from another group of founding artists, the Pintupi. These 'people from the west' were different from the Anmatyerr and Warlpiri artists linguistically, geographically and in terms of their limited experience in dealing with Europeans. They were also unacquainted with watercolour painting or figurative carving. In April 1971, the Pintupi began to congregate on Bardon's verandah where they made pencil or watercolour drawings on paper. Their drawings of archetypal and raw simplicity recall Tjapanangka's cartographic incisions on the spear-thrower collected by Donald Thomson in 1957. This rendering of their primal vocabulary in pencil – linear and cerebral, rather than painterly or pictorial – is in contrast to the virtuoso image-making, bilateral symmetry and subsidiary elaboration of Kaapa, Clifford Possum and Tim Leura. Yet the rhythmical linearity and sobriety of their elemental drawings and of their earliest works on board produced in the Men's Painting Room can in retrospect be seen as critical to the development of an enduring Papunya Tula art form. Their artistic vocabulary has been in the ascendant from the mid 1980s until now, and is largely produced in the Pintupi homeland centres of Walungurru and Kiwirrkura.

Related images

Ad100922
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
EXHI015398
Timmy Payungka Tjapangati
Pintupi c.1940-2000
Possum Dreaming for children 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
60.0 x 50.0 cm
Private collection
© 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
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
Ad100920
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
EXHI015734
Unknown
Pintupi active (1950s)
Spear thrower (1950s)
Mulga (Acacia sp.), earth pigments, spinifex resin, sinew, wood
76.0 x 9.0 x 5.0 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection, University of Melbourne
On loan to Museum Victoria, Melbourne (DT4562)
© Museum Victoria 2011 / Photographer Benjamin Healley
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
EXHI015182
Tutuma Tjapangati
Pintupi/Pitjantjatjara c.1909-87
Big Corroboree Dreaming 1971
earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on composition board
96.8 x 58.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1993
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
EXHI015291
Tutuma Tjapangati
Pintupi/Pitjantjatjara c.1909-87
One old man’s Dreaming 1971
earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on composition board
63.0 x 44.4 cm
Beverly and Anthony Knight, Melbourne
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd
Ad100432

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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