The Warlpiri-speaking community at Yuendumu (approximately 100 kilometres north of Papunya in the Northern Territory) was initially reluctant to follow developments at Papunya in the 1970s, where Western Desert artists began to paint for the public domain. Warlpiri women were the first to produce paintings; then, in 1983, a group of senior Warlpiri men, including Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Larry Jungurrayi Spencer, painted the doors of the local school with Jukurrpa (Dreaming) images. The project encouraged this senior group and other Warlpiri artists to paint on canvas on a large scale for exhibition and, within two years, they had established their own art centre.
One of the first large canvases to emerge from the community, this magnificent work pertains to the fire ceremony of the Warlpiri people, which is associated with the creation of the constellations. The work shares in the approach by Western Desert painters generally, in which the events that took place in ancestral times are portrayed through signs and icons in an aerial view of the landscape.
The painting is based on ceremonial ground paintings and, like them, is a collaborative work. Jimija Jungurrayi Spencer, owner of this Jukurrpa, supervised the painting but did not participate. The main painter was Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, a leading artist in the community who had matrilineally inherited rights to the Jukurrpa. Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Jimija Jungurrayi Spencer’s younger brother, Larry Jungurrayi Spencer, assisted.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014