Australia 1948 /1952 – 2013
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Born around 1950 in the remote central Australian landscape north-west of Alice Springs, Dorothy Napangardi spent her formative years learning about the rich cultural and spiritual realm of this desert region. Taught by her parents, Paddy Lewis Japanangka and Jeannie Lewis Napurrula, she gained an intimate knowledge of the abundant resources, both flora and fauna, and flourished with her family in what appeared to be a harsh and barren environment.
Napangardi’s first contact with white people occurred around the mid to late 1950s, when a government patrol officer relocated her and her family to the newly established Aboriginal settlement of Yuendumu, hundreds of kilometres south-east of their Mina Mina homeland. Her life changed remarkably at this point, and she was given the English name of Dorothy. Her family tried to return to their Country and their traditional way of life on numerous occasions but were repeatedly forced to return to Yuendumu.
While at Yuendumu, she married young and raised her small family of four daughters. However, she left Yuendumu and moved to Alice Springs and began to paint her Karntakurlangu/Kanakurlangu Jukurrpa (Women’s or Digging Sticks Dreaming) on canvas boards in 1987, later turning her attention to painting her beloved homeland of Mina Mina. Her paintings are topographical and historical cultural maps communicated with a delicate hand. They must also be read as the ancient epic travels of the Warlpiri ancestral women as they traversed across the desert country.
Over time, the content of her paintings, the Jukurrpa (Dreaming), remained constant, while her artistic style developed in a uniquely contemporary way. She was not bound or hindered by traditional iconography but used it instead as her guiding reference point. Some of her paintings consist of delicate lines of minimal doting that dance with slow, persuasive rhythm across the surface of the canvas. It is like a visual rendition of the desert wind as it sweeps small particles of sand across the vast sandhills of Mina Mina, constantly recreating and changing the desertscape. In other paintings, Napangardi captures the white blinding stillness of a dry crystallised salt pan, basking and blistering in the heat of the day.
Although Napangardi’s artistic practice was cut short with her sudden death in 2013, we must not forget this extraordinary contemporary artist who was informed by her culture, her Country and her birthright; she was a ceremonial woman who delicately and defiantly articulated her love for her Country through her remarkable paintings.
Franchesca Cubillo, Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
in artonview, issue 81, Autumn 2015