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All the Stories got into our Minds and Eyes

Warakurna Community (2011) by Tracy Yates
Warakurna Community (2011) by Tracy Yates

Warakurna: All the Stories Got into our Minds and Eyes is an exhibition featuring 40 unique paintings by artists from the Warakurna community, 300-kilometres west of Uluru. The paintings are the product of Warakurna Artists, a thriving art centre in the heart of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands.

The exhibition has come about through Warakurna peoples' desire to record their own stories in their own way.

Ngurrangka-latju nyinarra tjamuku kaparliku ngurrangka. Tjukurrpa ngaparrku-ngaparrku nintira nyuntulu-yan kulira nintirrinytjaku.
We are living in our grandfather's and grandmother's country. We are sharing our stories with you so that you can learn about them. (Eunice Yunurupa Porter 2011)

The people of Warakurna speak Ngaanyatjarra as their first language and refer to themselves by the term Yarnangu. Ngaanyatjarra is a Western Desert language. The Western Desert covers a broad area, which includes most of the interior of Western Australia, northern South Australia and the south-west corner of the Northern Territory. Western Desert artists are famous nationally and internationally for their acrylic paintings using traditional designs.

The translation of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) designs to non-traditional surfaces began at the Northern Territory settlement of Papunya in 1971. Some of the descendants of that original painting group are living in Warakurna today, where artists have been experimenting with new ways of telling stories on canvas.

Produced in the last two years, the paintings in the Warakurna exhibition are more figurative in style than traditional Western Desert works. These paintings also tell a wider range of stories. The artists from Warakurna are now using their paintings to document their history - the coming of explorers, prospectors and missionaries, the building of roads, missile testing, the return to their homeland and the setting up of their own community.

Ngarnmanypalpi-latju nyinapayi purtingka. Tjamulu kaparlilu tjukurrpa nintipungkupayi palyaratjaku, turlku kanturatjaku, minyma nyanpirratjaku. Mission tayim-latju nyinarranytja. McDougall and Macaulaylu mirrka katipayi purtingka nyinarranyangka. Katipayi-tjananya missionkutu. Palunyalu-latju palyara kulipayi.
In the early days, we always lived in the bush. Grandfathers and grandmothers were teaching the Dreaming stories, teaching us to do the men's dances and the women's dances. In the mission time we were living there [at Warburton]. MacDougall and Macaulay [patrol officers] would bring food for people living in the bush and would take them into the mission. We are thinking about those things and doing these paintings. (Eunice Yunurupa Porter 2011)

The paintings also address what is happening in Warakurna today. They show people living on their land, taking part in land management burning and feral animal control, football matches, artefact making and the governance of the art centre and community.

Land Rights (2011) by Eunice Yunurupa Porter
Land Rights (2011) by Eunice Yunurupa Porter

Also featured in the exhibition is a selection of tjanpi (woven fibre) and purnu (carved wood) sculptures by artists from Warakurna. The tjanpi works are colourful and quirky, combining traditional materials, such as grass, with modern products such as steel wool and raffia. These works echo the stories, themes and objects that are represented in the paintings - people travelling in vehicles, on camels and by helicopter.

All of the paintings have been included in the Museum's permanent National Historical Collection where they will sit alongside signature early Papunya boards and important works from the Canning Stock Route collection. The majority of the paintings in the exhibition were donated to the Museum in 2011 by Wayne and Vicki McGeoch under the Commonwealth Government's Cultural Gifts Program.

Peter Thorley Curator, ATSIP

Plane made of tjanpi (woven fibre)
Yijanyayi Pitja (Has the Plane come?) (2011) by Dianne Ungukalpi Golding

Cover of Ngaanyatjarra Hymn Book  Cover of Maama Kuurrku Wangka, the Ngaanyatjarra Bible

Maama Kuurrku Wangka ('Father God's Word') and Turlku Pirninya ('Many Hymns'). The Ngaanyatjarra Bible and Hymn Book