NMA collection record

'Medicine Story' by Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala, 1971


This is an earth pigment, acrylic and enamel painting by Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala - possibly his earliest representation of the Yina (Old Man) story. Yina was powerful and dangerous, and is often referred to as a 'medicine one', meaning he practised a kind of sorcery. He is shown travelling west from Kampurarrpa and continuing through Sandy Blight Junction, near Kintore, to Yumari. Yumari is both the name of a place and a relationship term meaning mother-in-law. At Yumari, Yina had a forbidden liaison with his mother-in-law and suffered painful torment as a result. His exploits warn of the consequences of pursuing a taboo relationship. The painting is by Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala and measures 457 mm x 355 mm. This resource includes a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala (c1926-90) was one of the original group of Papunya artists and was an inspirational figure in the Papunya art movement, painting continuously until the late 1980s. He came from the Pintupi language group and was conceived at the site of Ngurrapalangu in the Kiwirrkura area of the Gibson Desert. Through this he was connected to the Yina (Old Man) Dreaming story that runs from Ngurrapalangu and through Yumari. In the late 1970s Tjangala and other Pintupi leaders developed a plan for returning to their traditional lands.

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.

All works are copyright the artists or their estates and are licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency.