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Uta Uta Tjangala

Australia c1926–1990
In the late 1950s, Tjangala led his family to Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff in the Northern Territory). It was his first contact with white people. He later moved to the nearby government settlement of Papunya, where he worked as a gardener before starting to paint in 1971. One of the artists who established the conventions of Pintupi painting, he was also able to push its boundaries – due to his personality and cultural authority – by later incorporating idiosyncratic visual elements and vibrant colours.

The influence of Papunya Tula art has been enormous. It has transformed the Australian landscape tradition and contributed to the evolution of contemporary abstract art.

Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) 1979

Tjangala was a founding member of the Papunya Tula Artists and the Western Desert art movement. Based on Tingari ceremonial designs, this painting depicts ancestral activities over a vast area of the Western Desert. Each concentric circle represents a geographic site. The lines that link these sites symbolise the travels of Tingari ancestors. This style of painting has its basis in ground-paintings for ceremony made in red desert sand highlighted with white wamulu (bush cotton).

The area in this depiction covers the heartlands of various men’s countries. Each of the men agreed to have his country painted, and several of these owners assisted Tjangala with the work. The painting may be seen as a longing for home at a time when Tjangala and other Pintupi leaders were advocating the establishment of homelands in their traditional country.

People and places

Established in 1972, Papunya Tula Artists is a company owned and directed by Aboriginal people of the Western Desert. After school teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the children at Papunya to create art using traditional motifs, the senior men of the community seized on the initiative, first painting a mural of the local Honey Ant Dreaming and then starting to paint their Tjukurrpa on any available surface. Over the next two decades, the works evolved from small-scale gestural expressions to larger, sophisticated paintings on canvas, and individual artists began to emerge.

The men at Papunya influenced Aboriginal people throughout the Western Desert to paint, establishing what is now known as the Western Desert art movement.