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'Yumari', painted by Uta Uta Tjangala, 1978


'Yumari', painted by Uta Uta Tjangala, 1978

Object information

Physical description

An unframed painting on cotton duck featuring three large concentric circles with dots and concentric U-shapes. Seven smaller concentric circles around edges. Designs in orange and yellow ochre. Background of dashes loosely applied in red and yellow ochres, white and orange on a black ground.

Educational significance

This acrylic painting is the story of Yumari, which is part of the Tingarri body of Dreamings and depicts the travels of an ancestral man. The man wears a pubic cover and carries hair-string bundles for ceremonies. The snaking line is his travelling route, and the large concentric circles are the sites he visits along the way: Lirlpamirramirra (in mulyarti or spear-wood country), Nyuntuna (a cave site) and Yumari. At each site he is shown resting, spread-eagled on his back. At Yumari he collects wanakitji, a form of bush tucker, to feed both himself and his female companion. The painting is by Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala and measures 1,700 mm x 3,390 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala (c1926-1990) was one of the original group of Papunya artists and an inspirational figure in the Papunya art movement, painting continuously until the late 1980s. He came from the Pintupi language group and was conceived at the site of Ngurrapalangu in the Kiwirrkura area of the Gibson Desert. Through this he was connected to the Yina (Old Man) Dreaming story, which runs from Ngurrapalangu and through Yumari. In the late 1970s he, together with other Pintupi leaders, developed and executed a plan for returning to their traditional lands.

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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