NMA collection record

'Dreaming at Ilingaringa' by Billy Nolan Tjapangarti, 1976


This acrylic painting shows a huge cave that marks the Dreaming site of Ilingaringa near Lake MacDonald where Minyma Kuniya (the Snake Woman) travelled in ancestral times. She took a circular path, indicated by the wavy lines, venturing behind the surrounding hills (the small concentric circles) before entering the cave, shown at the centre of the painting. Yellow background dots represent the local bush tucker plant kampurarrpa (solanum or bush tomato) and the white dots indicate patches of rock.The painting by Billy Nolan Tjapangarti measures 710 mm x 555 mm. This resource includes a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

Billy Nolan Tjapangarti (c1939-2003) who usually painted Tingarri stories of his country, came from the Pintupi language group and was born south of present-day Kintore towards Docker River. Tjapangarti grew up in the bush and came to Haasts Bluff in one of the early Pintupi eastward migrations. He observed the painting group at West Camp, Papunya, before taking up painting himself in 1976. From the early 1980s Tjapangarti and his second wife, artist Kayi Kayi Nampitjinpa, lived at Kintore, painting regularly for Papunya Tula Artists.

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.