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Balgo Hills (Wirimanu) art and communityBalgo Art and Artists


Balgo Hills artists are considered by many to be the most innovative and daring painters working in Central Australia.

The region’s art demonstrates a strong link with the land and traditional ceremony and practices (such as gathering bush food). Vivid use of colour, strong iconic imagery and bold composition characterise Balgo art. For examples of such work, go to our Balgo paintings and Balgo prints pages.

The different language groups represented at Balgo all broadly share the same major Dreaming stories. The details and emphasis may vary, but the main themes in Balgo art are the same: the Tingari Dreaming for young initiated men travelling across the country learning their cultural traditions; and the Wati Kutjarra or two goanna men who were sorcerers (or maparn) and were responsible for making the law and the creation of certain major features of the landscape.

Other prominent stories among men and women are concerned with permanent (living) water. This is often associated with the Rainbow Serpent, the primary creation ancestor in Aboriginal cultural belief. The remaining key Dreaming is for Luurnpa, or Wirrimanu, the sacred kingfisher and its wanderings across the landscape.

View of Balgo Hills
View of Balgo hills, north Western Australia
Photo: Tim Acker Warlayirti Artists

Not all Balgo paintings reflect the major myths and events of the Dreaming. Depictions of 'country', food-gathering, and initiation stories also have strong associations for each individual artist. The paintings depict the earth, dry watercourses, rockholes, sand hills and clay pans. These are all patterned into the painting with the careful use of dots which illustrate a mythological landscape, invisible yet pervasive.

The art community comprises approximately 100 active artists from six tribal groups that live in surrounding areas to Balgo. There is a solid core of about 20 well recognised artists in the fine art market, a number with international reputations. These include Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin, Lucy Yukenbarri, Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Susie Bootja Bootja, Elizabeth Nyumi, Boxer Milner, Sam Tjampitjin and Tjumpo Tjapanangka as well as younger emerging artists such as Pauline Sunfly.

In 1986 the first major exhibition of of works from Balgo - Art from the Great Sandy Desert - was held at the Museum of Western Australia. This exhibition led to much greater interest in Balgo art, and enabled the arts centre to be established. The centre was established in 1987 and has operated effectively since then. A new building was opened in July 2001.
Inside the Balgo art centre
Inside the Balgo Art Centre

A further exhibition in 1992 at the National Gallery of Victoria called "Images of Power" helped to widen the interest in Balgo art. The exhibition catalogue by Judith Ryan is still the main reference for Kimberley art, while the two books by James Cowan on Balgo art and artists (Craftsman House) are excellent sources on Balgo art and artists. Go to our Web site shop to buy the most recent books on Balgo art. The video "Painting Country" is also useful.

Work by Balgo artists is exhibited regularly in a wide ranging exhibition program and has been collected by all of the major national galleries in Australia and is held in many private collections in Australia and other countries.

Balgo artists with large painting
Balgo artists with a large work produced cooperatively

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