Tjungu Palya, South Australia - Art Collector

Issue 57, July - September 2011

Tjungu Palya’s artists have rapidly stamped out names for themselves in the few short years since the South Australian art centre was founded. Maurice O’Riordan investigates and finds, if there is a hallmark to the work being produced at this centre, it is its energy and a mastery of colour.

Tjungu Palya, in the Nyapari community of far north-western South Australia, is one of the newer Aboriginal art centres to grace the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. Tjungu Palya means good together in Pitjantjatjara and the centre’s establishment in 2005 initially represented the coming together of over 50 artists from Nyapiri and surrounding homeland settlements such as Kanpi, Angatju, Umpukulu, Tjankanu and Watarru. Six years later, the centre remains a hub for an increasing number of artists from these settlements, with many of these names quickly asserting their place on the national scene.

Soon after its establishment, Tjungu Palya artists Nyankula Watson and the late Wingu Tingima were selected as finalists in the 23rd National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Nyankula Watson is in some ways typical of the transience of settlement (and arbitrariness of whitefella borders) throughout the broader Anangu region. Born in Western Australia, she was a founding member in 2001 of Irrunytju Arts at Wingellina near the tri-state border. After painting for Tjungu Palya she now paints for Ninuku Arts, formed a year after Tjungu Palya in the nearby Kalka community. Similarly, Tiger Palpatja, one of Tjungu Palya’s leading artists, started out painting for Tjala Arts in the community of Amata.

Another prominent name to emerge from Tjungu Palya is the late Jimmy Baker, who passed away last year. He was born in Kanpi and later helped to form a homeland community there after spending time in Ernabella and working throughout the region in various physically demanding roles. Culturally, he was the son of an important leader and he himself carried on this mantle as well as being a highly regarded ngangkari (traditional healer). Baker began painting in his eighties for Tjungu Palya and was soon selected for Culture Warriors, the National Gallery of Australia’s inaugural Australian Indigenous Art Triennial. Fellow Tjungu Palya artist Maringka Baker, married to Jimmy’s nephew, was also represented in this triennial, and continues as one of the centre’s most prolific and sought after painters. Jimmy Baker’s three children – Kay, Marita and Anton – are all active painters at Tjungu Palya and Marita is also currently deputy chair of Ananguku Arts and Cultural Corporation, the peak body for the seven Aboriginal art centres in the APY Lands.

If the work of Jimmy Baker and Maringka Baker is characteristic of a particular painting style from Tjungu Palya, it is one that brings vibrant colour and rich, mosaic-like dot patterning to classical Western Desert iconography and law. Maringka Baker’s paintings are especially prized for their striking contrasts. A trace of seemingly discordant greens, for example, in an otherwise ochrous palette shows a formidable mastery of colour. Some artists such as Kay Baker create a much denser, almost kaleidoscopic composition, while paintings by the late Eileen Yaritja Stevens and Wingu Tingima are equally rich in their loose and expressive blending of colours.

Some of the centre’s younger artists, such as Jimmy’s grand daughter, Teresa Baker, “bring a different energy to work which consciously evokes that of her grandfather,” according to Outstation Art Gallery director Matt Ward. Ward cites Teresa Baker as one for collectors to look out for. “She is producing some incredible stuff, along with Kani Patricia Tunkin, another of Jimmy’s grand-daughters, whose work is held by Artbank.”

This quarter Short Street Gallery in Broome will stage the group exhibition Tjungu Palya 2011 from 14 July to 10 August 2011. Work by Tjungu Palya artists also appears in New paintings from Watarru at Outstation Gallery in Darwin until 6 August 2011, and internationally in a group exhibition at Redot Gallery in Singapore, which closes on 23 July 2011, and a touring group exhibition in Germany, organised by Artkelch, which travels to the Emmanuel Waldorf Galerie in Cologne in July and the Grassimuseum for Folk Arts in Leipzig in September.

Errata & Addendum
On page 220 of issue 57 in the story on the Tjungu Palya art centre, we misleadingly stated that Tiger Palpatja started painting at Tjungu Palya. Palpatja has made works for Tjungu Palya but has painted with Tjala Arts at Amata for over 10 years. We also incorrectly stated that Ananguku Arts is the peak body for the art centres of the APY Lands. In fact it represents the artists of the APY Lands. Australian Art Collector apologises to Tiger Palpatja, the art centres and Ananguku Arts for the errors.

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