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.

Bush Potato or Yam Dreaming

The tubers of the bush potato or desert yam plant (Ipomoea costata) are a staple food of Aboriginal people throughout Central Australia and the Western Desert. This fire-resistant plant grows in sand plain and spinifex terrain and can be harvested at any time of the year. Increase ceremonies are performed to ensure the productivity of the desert yam, one of a number of vegetal spirit beings associated with specific sites that are represented in early Papunya paintings.

Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri's Yam Spirit Dreaming 1972 shows many human figures seemingly germinating from and being fed by the branching tuberous roots of this vital food source. The brilliantly observed plant structure metamorphoses into spirit beings, warriors and women with coolamons. Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, by contrast, silhouettes the roots and leaves of the plant and sites associated with the Dreaming against a bright yellow ground.

Related images

Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri
Anmatyerr c.1929–1984
Yam Spirit Dreaming 1972
synthetic polymer paint on composition board
70.0 x 54.0 cm
Private collection
© artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
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