MELBOURNE- 19 October 2016


The revolution in desert painting initiated at Papunya in 1971 that took art out of the community into the public domain was emulated in a number of other Aboriginal communities in the vicinity of Alice Springs and eventually, beyond into Western Australia and South Australia. The Warlpiri artists at Yuendumu, some 100 kilometres north of Papunya, were at first reticent to chart a path into the unknown world of art beyond the confines of ceremony. A number of women artists had produced paintings and artefacts for the market in early 1980, but the real catalyst for the Warlpiri to make their art public came with the Yuendumu School project in 1983 in which the doors of the school were painted by a number of senior artists, including Paddy Tjapaltjarri Sims, with designs from the Jukurrpa (Dreaming). The Warlukurlangu Artists cooperative was established shortly afterwards, although a number of accomplished artists preferred to still work independently. Dorothy Napangardi is one such artist who was honoured with a retrospective exhibition, Dancing up country, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2002.

Further northwest in the Tanami Desert lies the community of Wirrimanu (Balgo Hills). The area is at the crossroads of a number of Dreamings and is a place charged with ancestral activity. The community made its mark in the world of art with the exhibition Art from the Great Sandy Desert at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth in 1986 which featured a work by Nancy Naninurra. John Lee Tjakamarra and Christine Yukenbarri continue the traditions of their fathers, Donkeyman Lee Tjupurrula and Helicopter Tjungurrayi respectively, who were among the mainstays of the Warlayirti Artists cooperative that was established at Balgo in 1987.

During the late 1980s, artists living in communities on Utopia Station northeast of Alice Springs commenced painting on canvas, although they had produced batik cloth for sale a decade earlier. From a number of outstanding artists, Emily Kame Kngwarreye became recognized as one of Australia’s leading painters. Subsequently, the 1990s witnessed a dramatic expansion of the desert art movement as new art centres were established in communities across the region, including Ikuntji Artists at Haasts Bluff and Watiyawanu Artists at Mt Liebig, west of Hermannsburg which opened in 1992 and 1995 respectively to cater for artists with direct links to Papunya. These include Lily Kelly Napangardi, Wentja Napaltjarri, who is the daughter of one of the very first Papunya painters Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi (c.1950-1987); Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri, who won the Telstra national Indigenous art award in 2006, and Billy Whiskey Tjapaltjarri.

While the art movement spread over vast distances, a number of Aboriginal art cooperatives were formed in Alice Springs itself. In 2000 Bindi Incorporated, a body that provides opportunities for people with disabilities, established the artists’ collective Mwerre Anthurre among whose founding members and most prominent talents is Billy Benn Perrurle.