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'Ngunarrmanya', painted by Freddy Tjugudi West Tjakamarra, 1974


'Ngunarrmanya', painted by Freddy Tjugudi West Tjakamarra, 1974

Object information

Physical description

Dotted painting on canvas board. Large concentric circle with nine smaller circles connected by single bands with broad oval and straight bands, horizontal format.

Educational significance

This acrylic painting depicts Ngunarrmanya, a permanent waterhole in sandhill country south of Jupiter Well, a yartayarta (important sacred place). Tingarri Men, their male initiates and two powerful female initiates, called Tjarratjarra, gathered at the waterhole during the Dreaming. A fire lit by men from Ngitjirrinya, to the south, to signal their presence, threatened a store of ceremonial objects at Ngunarrmanya. The initiates were instructed to build a barrier, which became a sandhill around the waterhole. This diverted the fire eastward and the Tingarri people followed in its burnt-out path. The painting is by Freddy West Tjakamarra and measures 760 mm x 605 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Freddy West Tjakamarra (c1932-94) began painting in the early years of the Papunya Tula movement and, following a short break, resumed painting in the 1980s. He came from the Pintupi language group and was born in the Gibson Desert. He was still a young man when his family was brought to Papunya by the Welfare Branch patrol in the 1960s. Tjakamarra was the driving force behind the establishment of the Pintupi settlement at Kiwirrkura.

The Papunya artists explain that their paintings come from the Dreaming. Like the natural features that mark out the journeys of ancestral beings and the ceremonies that re-enact these journeys, the paintings are both part of the Dreaming and part of the physical world. Papunya artist Benny (Pinny) Tjapaltjarri says, 'The Dreaming is our explanation of how the landforms appeared. A Dreaming character would come along and stay at a place and then turn into a hill or stone. Sometimes his tracks would become a soak or perhaps a rock hole ... People were also created by the Dreaming. You see, we are all born from our mothers ... but we still come from the Dreaming ... the Dreaming came first'.

By painting the designs and stories that represent their particular Dreaming places, the artists assert their rights and obligations as Central and Western Desert landowners, entrusted with the ritual re-enactment of the events that occurred at these sites. As part of these ceremonies, elaborate ground paintings are constructed using a symbolic language of U shapes, concentric circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks. This unique visual language is also used in designs painted on the skin, and is the same language made familiar by the Papunya painters.

The Western Desert art movement, which began at Papunya, is considered to be the genesis of contemporary Aboriginal art. Geoffrey Bardon, a young art teacher who worked at Papunya School from 1971 to 1972, is often credited as the founder of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, which was incorporated in 1972. He encouraged the senior men of the various language groups living at Papunya to develop ways of adapting their traditional art to Western materials.

The Australian Government played a crucial role in supporting the painting movement in the years following Bardon's departure from Papunya. In 1973 the Whitlam government formed the Aboriginal Arts Board, with members who were all Indigenous Australians. It fostered Aboriginal arts, literature, theatre, dance, music, painting and craft, and also provided grants for Aboriginal communities to employ managers and to help preserve and sustain Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts. Many large Papunya works were commissioned by the Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970s as part of its exhibition program in Australia and overseas. This collection was transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1990.

Object information

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