NMA collection record

'The Dancing Women at Nyuminga' by George Tjungurrayi, 1976


This is an acrylic painting by George Tjungurrayi which measures 725 mm x 570 mm. It represents a group of ancestral dancing women who, during the Dreaming, visited Nyuminga, a series of rocky outcrops far to the west of Alice Springs, in Western Australia. Here they gathered plant foods (indicated by the yellow dots) and kampurarrpa fruit from the solanum bush (the white dots on the perimeter of the design). The central set of concentric circles represents a large cave at the site. The women remained at Nyuminga in the form of upright stones. This resource includes a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

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.

The Papunya artists say 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.

George Tjungurrayi (1943-) is from the Pintupi language group and was born near Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert. Tjungurrayi came to Papunya via Mount Doreen Station and Yuendumu, to the north. He began painting for Papunya Tula at West Camp, Papunya, in 1976, and continued intermittently during the 1970s and more regularly after settling in Kintore in the early 1980s with his wife and five children.

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