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Mitjili Napurrula

DOB: 1945

BORN: Papunya
COUNTRY: Mount Liebig


Mitjili Napurrula (1945–2019) was born at Papunya, 200 kilometres west of Alice Springs. She is the daughter of Tupa Tjakamarra (deceased) and Tjunkiya Napatljarri (deceased). Her mother, Tjunkiya, was a Pintupi/Luritja woman from Yumari who also became a celebrated artist in her own right. Her mother ‘came in’ from the drought stricken Pintupi/Lurjita country seeking refuge and rations in the remote community of Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff). Along with her extended family, she was settled at Papunya, where Mitjili was born.


Dispossession and drought were only two of the factors that led to a series of migrations from the desert to mission or government settlements in the mid-twentieth century. Following the Outstation movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Aboriginal communities emerged throughout the region, each home to a distinctive art movement. Like many of her generation, Mitjili witnessed the genesis of the Papunya Tula art movement and the artistic contribution made by members of her immediate family. Mitjili’s brother, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, was one of the founding members of the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative.


Mitjili grew up in Papunya and moved to Haasts Bluff with her late husband Long Tom Tjapanangka in the late 1980s during the Outstation movement. The couple started painting at Ikuntji in 1992 with the opening of Ikuntji Women’s Centre, both contributing significantly to the emerging art movement there. After winning the Alice Springs Art Prize in 1999, Mitjili gained an international following.


In Mitjili’s award-winning painting, Untitled, coagulated white pigment swirls around abstract forms that refer to the Watiya Tjuta (desert oak/spearwood trees) used to make kulatas (spears). The tightly structured patterning of the key motifs and bold use of colour demonstrates her confidence in her individual artistic vision within a family of celebrated artists – and the cultural heritage that continues to inform the myriad expressions of Western Desert artists.


The Watiya Tjuta in Mitjili’s paintings is her father’s Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) in Ilyingaungau country (the Gibson Desert), passed down to her by her mother. Mitjili remembers “After I got married, my mother taught me my father’s Tjukurrpa in the sand, that’s what I’m painting on the canvas” … a women’s interpretation.


Source: Ikuntji Artists


Title: Uwalki: Watiya Tjuta

Artist: Mitjili Napurrula

Acrylic on linen

Painted: 2007

Size: 194cm x 98cm approximately

Catalogue number: AMA/MN159/09

Price: POA

Provenance: Aboriginal and Modern Art Gallery of Australia (AMAGOA) > Private Collection

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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