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.


  • EXHI015153

    Warlugulong is the first of a series of collaborative works by Clifford Possum and Tim Leura that thoroughly explores the map-like potential of a large canvas and brings together complex, interwoven narratives within an evocation of ancestral geography. Its title refers to the site of Warlukurlangu, which lies about thirty kilometres south of Yuendumu, where a great ancestral fire began. Lungkata, the Blue-tongue Lizard Man, had rested at this site. His two sons following behind, speared a kangaroo, cooked it, and greedily ate it all. The father sensed what had happened and determined to punish them. He blew on a firestick until it glowed, then touched it to a bush. The bush exploded into flame, as the painting illustrates, then burnt everything in its path and soon the two brothers were fighting the flames. Far to the south they perished, going into the ground as the bushfire lost its fury and died.

    Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1932-2002
    Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri
    Anmatyerr c.1929-1984
    Warlugulong 1976
    synthetic polymer paint on canvas
    168.5 x 170.5 cm
    Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
    Purchased, 1981 (321.1981)
    Photo: Ray Woodbury
    © artists and their estates 2011, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Limited and Papunya Tula Artists
  • Ad100683
    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
    © 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


Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri 1972
Pintupi c.1926-98
Photo © Allan Scott
Nosepeg Tjupurrula 1972
Pintupi c.1915-90
Photo © Allan Scott
Timmy Payungka Tjapangati 1972
Pintupi c.1940-2000
Photo © Allan Scott
Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, July 1972
Anmatyerr/Warlpiri c.1925-89
Photo © Allan Scott
Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi 1972
Pintupi c.1920-87
Photo © Allan Scott
Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi 1973
Pintupi c.1921-99
Photo © Allan Scott


  • EXHI015833
    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
  • EXHI015840
    Kukatja active 1960s
    Spear thrower 1960s
    Mulga (Acacia sp.), earth pigments, spinifex resin, sinew, wood
    64.5 x 14.4 x 2.6 cm
    Museum Victoria, Melbourne
    Purchased through the CRA Fund, 1981 (X84086)
    © Museum Victoria 2011 / Photographer Benjamin Healley
  • EXHI015835
    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