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Pintupi people

Australia 1927 – 1999

Ceremonial ground [Ceremonial ground at Kulkuta] 1981 Place made: Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, ceremonial objects, synthetic polymer paint on canvas Place Published: Wildbird Dreaming: Aboriginal art from the Central Deserts of AustraliaGreenhouse Publications, Melbourne, 1987. refer remarks for further pubs.

Dimensions: 182.5 h x 182 w cm framed (overall) 1835 h x 1823 w x 40 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1992
Accession No: NGA 92.1397
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd

By the early 1980s Pintupi painters began to develop archetypal images connected to the Tingari ancestors, using a bare minimum of the range of design elements available to them. These usually consisted of a series of concentric circles indicating a place or a waterhole or a ceremonial ground, joined by straight lines marking the path of the ancestors’ travels. Ceremonial ground 1981 is among the first paintings in which the imagery has been reduced to a field of roundels with no use of journey lines or any of the other design elements or icons usually found in Western Desert paintings.[1]

This painting depicts the participants in a post-initiation ceremony associated with events concerning the Tingari ancestors of the Pintupi people at a place near Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert. The setting is a cleared ritual ground where the participants, symbolised by circles, are sitting around at their camps. After a period of seclusion from the rest of the group, all the young men are brought out, their bodies painted with Tingari designs. They stand around a ceremonial ground painting, depicted as a circle in different colours in the upper centre left of the canvas. The larger circles represent older men of high ritual status, while the lines of dots in the background mark the lip of the raised dirt around the cleared ground of the campsites. The parallel curves framing the entire scene indicate groundwater on the plain surrounding the ritual site.

Wally Caruana

[1] With thanks to Vivien Johnson.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

This painting celebrates events connected with the ancestral Tingari beings. Tingari is the ancient and secret knowledge transmitted to Aboriginal men in ceremony as a form of post-initiatory higher education. Much of the knowledge and activities of the Tingari lawmakers is reserved for the initiated. The Tingari, however, are often also described as two major figures of varying identities who travelled through the vast Western Deserts with a large group of people. They created country and laid down the law as they went.

The painting shows a ceremonial ground where the participants sit around camps. The large circles represent older men who are decorating the younger ones (small circles) with Tingari designs. The large circle, made up of yellow dots rather than white, just to the upper left of the very centre of the painting, indicates the focal point of the ceremony. The ceremonial site is surrounded by water.

Anatjari evokes the spiritual powers that are summoned during the ceremonies and which imbue the participants through the use of visually mesmerising patterns of finely dotted concentric circles. The painting is characteristic of the minimal esoteric images produced by the Pintupi: apart from the repeated patterns of circles, there are none of the other designs, such as U-shapes and arcs, wavy or straight lines, common to the paintings by artists belonging to other language groups across the desert.

Wally Caruana 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002