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'Flying Ant Dreaming', painted by Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, 1976


'Flying Ant Dreaming', painted by Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, 1976

Object information

Physical description

An unframed painting on cotton duck which depicts numerous circles, some fully concentric and others partially concentric with fragmented lines around circumference. Linked with brown fragmented parallel lines. Background black with large brown spots, and dots in patches of white, yellow, brown and green.

Educational significance

This acrylic painting depicts Warturnuma (the ancestral flying ant), who was immense and had a long beard and wizened face. He flew just above the treetops, travelling westward through the lands of the Anmatyerr and Warlpiri peoples. At Ngunga, north-west of Alice Springs, he landed for the last time, crawled on his arthritic knees into a cave and died. The double bars represent ant wings. The concentric circles refer to the ant's resting places and the earthen 'homes' of these insects. The painting is by Kaapa Tjampitjinpa and measures 2,024 mm x 1,718 mm. This resource includes a map showing sites of significance.

Kaapa Tjampitjinpa (c1926-89) was a key figure in establishing Papunya Tula Artists and was the first chairman. He came from the Anmatyerr/Warlpiri/Arrernte language groups. Tjampitjinpa, his younger 'brother' Dinny Nolan Tjampitjinpa and cousins Tim Leura, Clifford Possum and Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri all grew up on Napperby Station, north-west of Alice Springs, where Tjampitjinpa was born and later initiated. He worked as a stockman before moving to Papunya in the early 1960s.

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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