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The Story of Papunya
Transcript of The Story of Papunya
Papunya is an Aboriginal community, founded by the Australian government in 1960 to provide basic housing and food to displaced Aboriginal people. Most people at Papunya speak either Pintupi or Luritja languages and belong to groups from the Central or Western Desert.
Government settlements like Papunya stressed assimilation, which meant that Aboriginal residents were expected to wear Western clothes, eat Western food, stay in the settlement, and in general abandon their traditions.
Before moving to Papunya, Aboriginal people of the Western Desert had lived according to ancient traditions based on the Dreaming.
Western Desert people were hunter-gatherers. For centuries they had lived in the desert on the land of their ancestors.
The surviving elders worried that, because traditional practices and structures were defunct within the government settlement, the younger generation was out of touch with ancestral knowledge and traditions
Living at Papunya made the elders feel disconnected from their land and traditions. Under government laws, Aboriginal elders had no authority.
In 1971, Geoffrey Bardon arrived at Papunya. Bardon believed in encouraging and recording Aboriginal traditions through art.
Bardon taught at the school in Papunya, where he saw the children drawing patterns on the ground. He encouraged them to paint their patterns on paper, making the designs permanent and mobile.
Photo: Geoffrey Bardon, 1971
Later, Bardon and the children encouraged local elders to paint a mural for the school. The resulting painting was of the Honey Ant Dreaming, a major Dreaming story for Aboriginal people from the Central Desert.
While the mural was being painted, Bardon became friends with the elders. The elders agreed to teach Bardon about some of their traditional designs. Bardon brought boards and paper for the men to paint and draw on.
During this process, Bardon met and became friends with the elders at Papunya. These men would become the leaders of a new art movement.
Pintupi and Luritja people traditionally made art as part of ceremonies or to pass down Dreaming stories. Their lifestyle often required their art to be temporary, like body painting.
This was the beginning of a new artistic movement.
The men created hundreds of paintings.
or, once it was built, in the men's painting room...
They worked on the ground in the desert...
often working together on a single painting.
Each man had his own individual painting style, and represented only the Dreaming stories he "owned." Even so, there are distinct similarities across all work made at Papunya during this time, giving rise to the name of their new style: Papunya Tula
Can you spot the trends that define the Papunya style in these examples from the Kluge-Ruhe Collection?
Uta Uta Tjangala, Tingari Cycle, c.1973
Simon Tjakamarra, Tinjari Camp at Pillintjina, 1988
Many early Papunya paintings depicted secret-sacred knowledge, rituals, or stories. The elders soon decided that the style needed to be adapted so their secrets could stay secret.
Painting was a way for the elders at Papunya to remember, practice, and pass on their traditions and stories.
A few years after painting had started at Papunya, the style began to change...
becoming more and more abstract.
The artists also added elements to make their paintings "flash," so that the patterns seemed to move and shimmer.
Eventually, the dots became so common that Papunya art came to be known as 'dot painting.'
One way to make a painting flash was to add more and more dots to the design
Simon Tjakamarra, Nyukulnga Story, 1989
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Two Wallabies at Marnpi, 1988
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Bush Tucker Dreaming c. 1985-1987
Limpi Putungka Tjapangati, Untitled, c. 1980
The Papunya 'dot painting' style quickly drew attention from art collectors for its abstract, colorful, modern aesthetic.
Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Budgerigar Dreaming, 1988
Over the years, the elder artists have continued to paint, and have passed on their techniques to younger generations.
Today. Papunya dot paintings are held in museums and private collections all over the world.
Some of the best ones are here at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection!
Bardon, Geoffrey. Honey Ant Mural shown in progress, June-August 1971. Published in Bardon, Geoffrey and James. (2004). Papunya. A Place Made After the Story. The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 15.
Unknown Photographer. Men's Painting Room, ca. July 14, 1972. Published in Benjamin, Roger and Weislogel, Andrew C. (eds.). (2009). Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya. New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 20.
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
Womack, Helen. Papunya. Retrieved from "Mixing up the Colors." Alice Online. WordPress, 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.
National Museum of Australia Collection, 2008.0020.0007, 2008.0020.0008, 2008.0020.0009
Learn about painting at Papunya
Click below to view presentation
Anatjarri III Tjakamarra, Untitled, 1989
The Dreaming is a spiritual guiding force of Aboriginal culture. Dreaming stories explain how the Australian landscape, its people, and rules for social life were created by ancestral beings. These stories give lessons about how to behave and provide information about where to find food and water or which places are especially sacred.
Lanting, Frans. "Pintupi Rock Painting, Central Australia." Frans Lanting Stock Home. Frans Lanting, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
They were skilled hunters and trackers.
Some Aboriginal people also used fire-stick farming. Fire-stick farming is the strategic use of fire to burn areas of dense vegetation in order to change the plant and animal life there. Burning promotes the growth of edible plants like bush potatoes as well as grasses that attract kangaroos. Burning can also help to reveal animal burrows.
The elders liked the idea of painting as a way to pass on their traditional knowledge to the next generation.
In art, 'abstract' is a term to describe an artwork that does not obviously represent something recognizable. Often, abstract art looks like it has no meaning, but it can usually be explained by the artist. For instance, a painting of a cow is NOT abstract, but a painting with a black and white design might be the artist's ABSTRACT way of representing a cow.
Permanent art forms like rock art were remembered and revisited as groups returned to the same places for spiritual or hunting purposes.
\puh puən yuh\
Diflo, Kevin. Tutuma Tjapangati, 1977. Retrieved from "Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art." National Gallery of Victoria. National Gallery of Victoria, 2011. Web. 01 Feb. 2013.
King, Henry. 'The Dook.' 1890s. Tyrrell Collection No. 75, The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following presentation may contain images of people who have passed away.
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Family Moon Dreaming, c. 1976
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Moon Dreaming, 1988
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Wallaby and Bandicoot Dreaming, 1990
Michael Jagamara Nelson, Five Dreamings: Flying Ant Dreaming, Possum Dreaming, Rainbow Serpent Dreaming, Rock Wallaby Dreaming, & Rain Dreaming, c. 1985-1987
In the 1990s, women leaders at Papunya joined the painting movement.
Pansy Napangardi, Two Women Dreaming, 1989
Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Watanuma, 2001
The women’s paintings have their own unique style within the tradition of Papunya Painting.
Photo: Helen Womack, 2009
Photo: Roy Dunstan, 1936-1938. State Library of Victoria.
Photo: Rebecca Bird, 2010
Photo: Kevin Diflo, 1977
Photo: Frans Lanting, n.d.
Pintupi Artists, 1971. National Museum of Australia Collection.
Photo: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, 1970s
Photo: Henry King, 1890s. Tyrrell Collection, Powerhouse Museum.
Photo: Allan Scott, 1973.
Photo: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, early 1970s
Photo: Photographer Unknown, 1972
Photo: Fred Myers, 1981
Myers, Fred. Tim Payunka Tjapangarti, Yumpuluru Tjungurrayi and Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala working on Yumari, 1981.
Dunstan, Roy. Two old Aboriginal hunters with weapons, 1936-1938. State Library of Victoria H92.342/214. Cropped.
Bird, Rebecca. Martu hunter Burchell Taylor burns a clump of spinifex grass to reveal lizard burrows in Australia's Western Desert. Published in Stanford Report, April 29, 2010. Aboriginal hunting and burning increase Australia’s desert biodiversity, Stanford researchers find. By Daniel Strain.
Scott, Allan. 1973. Published in Bardon & Bardon (2004) Papunya: A Place Made after the Story, p. 14