Art centre: Papunya Tjupi Arts - Art Collector

Issue 64, April - June 2013

Since Papunja Tjupi Arts opened in 2007 the art centre has built upon its cultural heritage as the birthplace of the Western and Central Desert art movement to establish and encourage a new generation of artists writes Sara White.

Doris Bush Nungarrayi, Tjurrpinyi, 2012. Acrylic on linen, 152 x 183cm. Courtesy: the artist and Papunya Tjupi Arts, Northern Territory

Passing on culture to young people was the primary motivation for the establishment of Papunya Tjupi Aboriginal art centre in 2007. Co-founder Michael Jagamara Nelson stated at the time: “we really want to teach our young people to paint too, and to teach our traditional culture through painting. This is very, very important to us.”

Located 240 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, the Papunya area is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the Western and Central Desert art movement. In the 1970s the government settlement brought together more than 1000 displaced people from several different language groups. Over-crowding, disease, boredom and cross-cultural tensions were the distressing conditions that the Indigenous population countered with an explosion of artistic creativity that challenged the colonial order and grew into the most significant develop- ment in late 20th century Australian art.

In the early 1990s the Papunya Community Council established Warumpi Arts in Alice Springs, but its closure in 2004 left Papunya artists without organised representation. Then in October 2005 the artists of Papunya approached desert art historian and long-time supporter Professor Vivien Johnson of the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, to help them establish a community-based art centre in the now small settlement of Papunya (home to 350 mainly Luritja people). What followed was a near sellout exhibition at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery in Sydney, which combined with external funding, enabled Papunya Tjupi Arts to open in a small rented house in a Papunya backstreet that also served as the set-up manager’s accommodation.

In June 2008 printmaker Kasumi Ejiri and painter Simon Taylor became managers and in less than a year Papunya Tjupi moved in to a renovated, large and centrally located building giving Papunya, after 30 years, an adequate facility, an art centre, a place to encourage the continuation of traditional craft and cultural law through art practice.

Papunya Tjupi is a conduit for the expertise and experience of its internationally renowned senior artists but it is the young artists, the children and grandchildren, who are revitalising painting at Papunya. Beyula Puntungka Napanangka is the daughter of pioneer Papunya painter Limpi Tjapangati. In four years working at Papunya Tjupi, the development of Beyula’s art practice is astounding. She tells the story of the kalinykalinypa, or desert grevillea flower, a delicacy that Anangu people enjoy for its sweet honeydew. Beyula is now one of Papunya Tjupi’s most senior and consistent artists. She paints with a precision and visual articulation that is reminiscent of the early Papunya boards but in a voice and with a power that is fully her own.

Doris Bush Nungurrayi’s paintings recall the marks of women’s ceremonial body painting in rhythmic webs of curved lines. For the first two years working at Papunya Tjupi, she painted Nyunmanu, a dingo dreaming site to the south-east of Kintore. More recently Nungurrayi’s work has unique significance as she paints Tjurrpinyi, her name for the more personal and autobiographical story of meeting her husband when swimming near Haasts Bluff. These are works that featured in Nungurrayi’s first solo exhibition at Damien Minton Gallery in Sydney last year – powerful, precise images with a complex layering first seen in Johnny Warangkula’s work some 40 years ago.

Nungurrayi’s story is also a reminder of the vital role played by community-based art centres in providing cultural, socio-economic and educational benefits to artists and community. “I have been told that Doris’s marriage was a great love affair,” says Ejiri, “When George Tjangala passed away Doris became a shadow of herself roaming the streets of Alice Springs. When Papunya Tjupi started she returned to Papunya to join her family and regained her strength through painting.”

Tilau Nangala, born in 1933, is the most senior woman in the Papunya artistic community. She paints the rain dreaming site of Mikantji. Her paint- ings are distinguished by their deceptive simplicity. The strong focus on line is a poetic capturing of to- pography, water flow and story. Tilau Nangala, born in the bush, knows the stories, the dances and her works resonate with the power of cultural authority.

Isobel Gorey Nampitjinpa is another artist to look out for. She works slowly – meticulous dots join to make a woven latticework of lines that tell of water dreaming. Only last year did her work come into its own but creating six to ten paintings a year, her work is already in high demand.

The young artists of Papunya wanted a place to work, a place to connect with culture, to experiment, create and develop professional skills. Papunya Tjupi Arts has been providing that place since 2007. With recent shows in Germany, France and Singapore, the centre is fast attracting national and international attention. What is more, Papunya Tjupi art comes from Papunya and all proceeds go to the artists and community.

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