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Ninuku regionTjungu Palya: Art from Nyapari


All of the senior members of Tjungu Palya lived a traditional life, travelling in small family groups across the Western Desert, a dynamic landscape which sustained Anangu both spiritually and physically. "Whitefellas" came to this country relatively recently, well within memory of many artists. The remoteness of these communities has contributed to the maintenance of an Aboriginal lifestyle rich in ceremonies and traditional observances. For profiles of individual artists, see the Nyapari Artists page.

These artists have a deep connection to country, which is expressed with integrity, beauty and a bold creativity in the canvas paintings as traditional stories of the ancestors journeys are retold. Each painting depicts a fragment of a larger story, a living history where an ancestor was involved in creating country. These spirit men and women from the Tjukurrpa are still living in this desert landscape and have an ongoing relationship with the desert people. Individuals have authority and ownership of this land and the associated sites and stories, and continue to care and manage the land as their ancestors have done. These links, both spiritual and physical, to the desert are integral to the well being of Anangu.

One such site Piltati relating to the Ancestral Serpent Brothers is a strong theme in many of the artist's work. Eileen Yaritja Stevens at over 90 years of age a senior artist with Tjungu Palya tells the story in her own words:

…This is Piltati Tjukurpa the creation story for Piltati. Wati wanampi kutjara munu kunga kutjara nyinanyi the two snake men were sitting with the two girls. The sisters Wanyinta and Alartjatjarra, went out each day to dig for mai and kuka bush foods and meat. The men sat inside the cave painting sacred designs on the walls or making spears or having Inma sacred singing and dancing. Each day the women returned with the food and shared it with the two men, however they were getting tired of doing all the hard work themselves. One day the sisters decided to eat the food. The brother's were really angry at the women for eating all the food and said "we might turn ourselves into spirit birds and trick the two sisters". They talked about their idea for a long time and finally agreed to turn into wanampi giant water serpents. The next day when the sisters went out digging for kuka they saw the mark of a large kuniya edible snake and got really happy thinking they would have a big feed. They were digging here, at that snake hole, digging and digging deep, but after lots of hard work they only dug up a little snake. They dug many holes looking for that big feed, but that wanampi was too clever for them. They dug deeper and deeper for many days trying to get to what they thought was a really big kuniya. Then the big sister saw the wanampi, but still thought it was the kuniya and quickly threw her wana digging stick at the snake. Her stick speared the serpent in the side and he cried out in pain. The two brothers were furious and came out of the hole and ate the two sisters.

The senior artists paint continuously and believe that the transfer of traditional knowledge to the young is of utmost importance. It is not uncommon for four generations of one family to be gathered at the art centre, painting, singing and retelling the Tjukurrpa. It is a hive of activity, of fun, of culture and creativity.

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