His vignettes of the old ladies who came down to Alice for the show (Makinti Napanangka, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Tjunkiya Napaltjarri, and Eileen Napaltjarri were in attendance, holding court in the carpark behind the gallery) are equally vivd and affectionate. Despite age and failing health, these women seem to have lost none of the bravado which impelled them into the forefront of Pintupi painting. Here is Makinti: “I’m the boss for canvas…. I’m a winner for big canvas.” And Tjunkiya, in pink gym shoes, who asserts, “My paintings are much better than Ningura’s.” Eileen Napaltjarri tells stories of being taken out to Tjiturrulnga rockhole by her parents, Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi and Tatali Nangala, and suddenly you have a whole new appreciation for the amazing accomplishments of this small band of desert dwellers over just two generations.
This year’s annual hometown celebration wasn’t all women painters, of course. Paintings by Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri and Patrick Tjungurrayi represented the elder generation, while Martin Tjampitjinpa and Nyilyari Tjapangati stood for the younger. But the women certainly held pride of place this weekend.
I’m most grateful to Paul Sweeney for sending the fabulous photographs below, along with the wall texts from the show, to share with you. (I’m grateful to Paul for many, many things, but tonight, I’ll just say thanks for the photos.) Whether you made it to Alice this weekend or not, enjoy this stunning representation of the works that were on display.
Yawulyurru kapalilu palyara nintilpayi
1996 – 1999
This year marks a significant milestone in the thirty-five year history of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd. It has now been ten years since two small groups of women in Kintore and Kiwirrkura created their first works for the company. In 1996 Papunya Tula Artists’ profile was already well and truly established, but this was largely due to the male artists, some of whom had been painting since the beginning of the movement in 1971. By the end of 1996, however, a completely new direction had been forged, and a new chapter in the movement’s history was well under way.
Those first works were met with a great deal of excitement and anticipation, as people had become well aware of the importance of the early men’s work and recognised the immense potential of the new women artists. Colours and compositions previously unseen by those who appreciated Western Desert art suddenly burst onto the scene, capturing the imagination of an audience who were instantly mesmerised by the women’s unique interpretation of their ancestral stories. Not surprisingly, their first interstate group show was highly successful, with several works being purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria. A dynamic new energy had arrived on the Australian contemporary art scene.
2000 – 2003
By the end of 2000 the women had firmly established their own place in the market, and their work was continuing to be acquired by major collectors and state galleries across the country. During the Olympic Arts Festival, Papunya Tula Artists was showcased at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the landmark exhibition ‘Genesis and Genius’. Ten women had their work selected for the exhibition, which also featured the two large collaborative women’s paintings commissioned for the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal.
Sadly, the careers of some had already come to an end, but in a few short years a lasting body of acclaimed work had already been created. In a flurry of song and colour, artists such as Tatali Nangala and Inyuwa Nampitjinpa, who both passed away in 1999, had produced more than four hundred and fifty works between them. Like blazing comets, their careers skyrocketed, burned intensely and were suddenly gone. Other artists continued to explore their own styles, confidently marking out their stories on large scale canvases that went on to become centrepieces of group and solo exhibitions. Bright, rich colours continued to flow as more and more women from Kintore and Kiwirrkura chose painting as a form of expression. Younger women who for years had sat observing older family members painting were now establishing themselves as career artists in their own right. Annual mixed women’s exhibitions were being held, as the core group of around thirty women had now increased to more than fifty.
2004 – 2006
As the demand for works by some artists continued to rise, so too did the level of interest in the younger emerging group. By now, sisters, nieces, daughters and granddaughters were regular painters with the company. In 2004 some artists were represented in as many as thirteen separate exhibitions, including the Telstra Art Award, the Melbourne Art Fair, ‘Colour Power’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, and, of course, the annual ‘Pintupi Show’ here at the artists’ own gallery in Alice Springs. The international spotlight had also focused on the women, with major works being included in exhibitions in Germany, Singapore, the USA and the UK. In a way that both balanced and complemented the men’s work, the women’s movement had now defined itself as an inspired, powerful and culturally rich expression of traditional life in the Western Desert.
The depth of talent and diversity of styles of the women artists are now integral to Papunya Tula Artists’ profile today, with the level of recognition they have received and the list of their achievements now equalling that of the men. From an original group of around thirty women began a dynamic and unstoppable outpouring of artistic energy that will continue for many years to come.