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'Snake Dreaming at Naruingya', by Yumpuluru Tjungurrayi, 1976


'Snake Dreaming at Naruingya', by Yumpuluru Tjungurrayi, 1976

Object information

Physical description

An unframed painting on canvas board depicting large central concentric circles joined to smaller ones at corners. Horseshoe shapes and wriggly lines in red. Background of white and yellow dots on black ground.

Educational significance

The large set of concentric circles in this acrylic painting represents the waterhole at Naruingya. Gathered around are senior lawmen, indicated by the U shapes, conducting ceremonies at the site. The smaller circles are the camps of younger men, with connecting lines indicating the cohesiveness of the groups taking part in the ceremonies. The squiggly lines around the edge of the painting represent snakes. The painting by Yumpuluru Tjungurrayi measures 760 mm x 605 mm. This resource includes a map showing sites of significance.

Yumpuluru Tjungurrayi (c1930-98) came to Papunya in 1964 and was one of the original Papunya Tula shareholders. He came from the Pintupi language group. As a boy, Tjungurrayi travelled with his family over the country between Jupiter Well and Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert, before making contact with non-Indigenous Australians. In 1981 he joined the Pintupi in their move back to their traditional lands at Kintore, later settling in Kiwirrkura. He painted a few small boards in the 1970s, often distinctive for their quirky designs.

The Papunya artists explain that their paintings come from the Dreaming. Like the natural features that mark out the journeys of ancestral beings and the ceremonies that re-enact these journeys, the paintings are both part of the Dreaming and part of the physical world. Papunya artist Benny (Pinny) Tjapaltjarri says, 'The Dreaming is our explanation of how the landforms appeared. A Dreaming character would come along and stay at a place and then turn into a hill or stone. Sometimes his tracks would become a soak or perhaps a rock hole ... People were also created by the Dreaming. You see, we are all born from our mothers ... but we still come from the Dreaming ... the Dreaming came first'.

By painting the designs and stories that represent their particular Dreaming places, the artists assert their rights and obligations as Central and Western Desert landowners, entrusted with the ritual re-enactment of the events that occurred at these sites. As part of these ceremonies, elaborate ground paintings are constructed using a symbolic language of U shapes, concentric circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks. This unique visual language is also used in designs painted on the skin, and is the same language made familiar by the Papunya painters.

The Western Desert art movement, which began at Papunya, is considered to be the genesis of contemporary Aboriginal art. Geoffrey Bardon, a young art teacher who worked at Papunya School from 1971 to 1972, is often credited as the founder of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, which was incorporated in 1972. He encouraged the senior men of the various language groups living at Papunya to develop ways of adapting their traditional art to Western materials.

The Australian Government played a crucial role in supporting the painting movement in the years following Bardon's departure from Papunya. In 1973 the Whitlam government formed the Aboriginal Arts Board, with members who were all Indigenous Australians. It fostered Aboriginal arts, literature, theatre, dance, music, painting and craft, and also provided grants for Aboriginal communities to employ managers and to help preserve and sustain Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts. Many large Papunya works were commissioned by the Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970s as part of its exhibition program in Australia and overseas. This collection was transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1990.

Object information

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