Pitjantjatjara people

Walytjatjara, north-west corner of South Australia, Australia born 1928 /1932

Wanka Tjukurpa (Spiderman) 2007 Place made: Amata Community, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Dimensions: 154.0 h x 182.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.815
  • Harry Tjutjuna describes himself as a ‘spiderman’; not to draw a comparison to the wall-crawling, web-slinging Stan Lee comic-book creation of the 1960s, who was translated to the big screen for a new generation of Spidey fans, but because of the ancestral creatures of his Tjukurpa (creations stories). Aboriginal people often associate themselves with one or more of the creatures of their ngura (home place) in this way. Tjutjuna is a senior Pitjantjatjara leader in his community and is also a ngangkari (traditional healer) and, as a ngangkari, he uses spider webs to treat abrasions and skin injuries.1

    Tjutjuna’s birthplace is Mount Davies in the north-west corner of South Australia. He moved to Ernabella as a young man and was educated at the Ernabella Mission School. He is now a senior elder and, like many of his contemporaries from remote communities, he came to painting in his later years—at end of 2005. Tjutjuna is associated with Tjala Arts, a newly established art centre closely affiliated with the oldest operating incorporated Indigenous art centre in Australia—Ernabella Arts. His experiences and intimate knowledge of country, its stories and his own personal obligations are evident throughout his work, and he has emerged as a highly innovative artist.

    Although Tjutjuna is not known for figurative works, this painting affirms his position as a senior lawman and ngangkari. Tjutjuna’s primary totem is a spider, and the design in the background not only references the intricate pattern spun by spiders but also the inherent role the spider plays in his Tjukurpa. The brilliantly vibrant colours of this painting also resonate with the earthy oranges and reds found in Tjutjuna’s desert birthplace.

    The exciting addition of Tjutjuna’s Wanka Tjukurpa (Spiderman) 2007 to the national art collection acknowledges a new phase of works on canvas in Ernabella’s artistic development. Harry Tjutjuna may not be fighting super villains but, as an artist, elder and a healer, he is keeping the law and culture of his people alive.


    Chantelle Woods
    Assistant Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
    in artonview, issue 57, autumn 2009

    1 Spellings and meanings of Indigenous Australian words are from information about Harry Tjutjuna, Ernabella Arts, 2007.

    in artonview, issue 57, autumn 2009