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'Dreaming of Matjadji' painted by David Corby Tjapaltjarri, 1975


'Dreaming of Matjadji' painted by David Corby Tjapaltjarri, 1975

Object information

Physical description

A painting on canvas, featuring three concentric circles joined by a longitudinal sinuous band of parallel lines and five isolated arcs at intervals on a dotted background.

Educational significance

This acrylic painting depicts a men's Dreaming that passed through a waterhole site called Matjatji before continuing to Kunatjarri. The ceremony at Matjatji involved young initiates receiving instruction from an Elder, represented by the U shape, with the sinuous line indicating the track followed by the initiates during the ceremony. The arc shapes, which are the body paint symbols applied to the participants' legs, are further reflected in the ground pattern. The painting by David Corby Tjapaltjarri measures 1,652 mm x 478 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

David Corby Tjapaltjarri (1940-80), as one of the youngest of the group of Papunya artists, was encouraged to join by his older brother Charlie Egalie Tjapaltjarri and was influenced in his work by his father-in-law Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula. He came from the Ngaliya/Warlpiri language groups and was born at Tjunti, north-west of Papunya in the Treuer Range. He worked as a stockman before joining the early group of artists at Papunya. He drowned in a flooded creek on his way back to Papunya shortly after being elected chairman of Papunya Tula Artists.

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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