Curated by eminent Papunya scholar Vivien Johnson, Streets of Papunya sets out to refocus the history of contemporary Aboriginal Art on the township of Papunya as well as to celebrate the exquisite art from the present day artists of its Papunya Tjupi Arts Centre.
“I thought, I am going to tell the whole story of Papunya,” Johnson says. “The focus will be on the Papunya Tjupi artists, especially the women because they certainly dominate now.” The starting point for the exhibition was to highlight the relationship between the contemporary painters of Papunya Tjupi and the founders of the Papunya art movement of the 70s, a connection that has been overlooked. “It’s the very simple idea of ‘here is a painting by John Warangkula Tjupurrula, and here are paintings by his son an daughters and niece too.’ That’s where they learnt,” Johnson says. The original Papunya Tula art movement began when many different language groups (mainly Pintupi and Luritja) were gathered at Papunya government settlement. With the income provided by painting, some of the Pintupi founders of Papunya Tula began moving back to their homelands, establishing the townships of Kintore and Kiwirrkura, hundreds of kilometers to the west of Papunya. Papunya Tula Artists shifted its focus to these Pintupi homelands communities, which have been its focus for the past 20 years, and gradually withdrew from Papunya itself. “The people back in Papunya who were also the descendants of the founding artists were kind of excluded from the picture,” says Johnson.
Doris Bush Nungarrayi, Kungka Tjutangku Mangarringku Ngurrirrinanyi (Women looking around country for food), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 152 cm, courtesy the artist and Papunya Tjupi Arts
The travelling exhibition from UNSW Galleries includes new works from the Papunya Tjupi artists and historical works from the Flinders University Art Museum, National Museum of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia to illustrate the family connections. Two short films will depict life in Papunya today. “I wanted to look at the whole question of Papunya itself because I wanted people to understand that Papunya is a place, a community of people who have lived there for generations now and have been making art from the very beginning,” Johnson says. The exhibition includes some strong works by the older women from Papunya Tjupi such as Doris Bush and Tilau Nangala, as well as Nellie Nangala, who was one of the first women to begin painting in the western desert style in Papunya in the 1980s and is still painting today.
Candy Nelson Nakamarra, Kalipinypa, 2013, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 91 x 51 cm, courtesy the artist and Papunya Tjupi Arts
Younger artists such as Candy Nelson Nakamarra (daughter of Johnny Warangkula) are also a highlight. “Candy has invented her own way of presenting something which is just as expressive and painterly as her father,” Johnson says. “It’s the same subject and you can see the same story in it but as a painting it’s totally original.” Since the Papunya Tjupi Art Centre was established in 2007, the township of Papunya has seen a renaissance of painting. “It’s a different paradigm,” Johnson says. “Mostly these artists didn’t grow up walking around the bush – most of them grew up on the settlement. That’s where they were exposed to people creating art and carried on what the previous generation started. It shows that Aboriginal art has a future.” Streets of Papunya: The Reinvention of Papunya Painting Flinders University Art Museum and City Gallery Until Sunday, April 17 flinders.edu.au/artmuseum Photo: Martha MacDonald Napaltjarri (in foreground) and Mona Nangala painting at Papunya Tjupi art centre, Papunya, 2015, photo Helen Puckey