This year marks 40 years of the Western Desert art movement. Symbolically, the movement began on 27th August 1971 when Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa was announced the joint winner of the Caltex Art Award in Alice Springs, becoming the first indigenous artist to win an art prize. This was the public recognition of a small group of traditional men at the Papunya government settlement who began painting aspects of their traditional cultural life.
Encouraged by the Papunya School teacher Geoffrey Bardon, the men went on to paint hundreds of boards and the following year in November 1972 formed Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, the first Aboriginal artist owned company.
From humble beginnings the movement grew. A record sale price at auction in 2007 of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s 1977 canvas, Warlugulong, when it resold to the National Gallery of Australia, testifies the movements’ significance in Australia. Internationally recognition of the movement is endorsed by representation in private and public collections including The British Museum , London, musee du quai Branly, Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Exhibitions and a major retrospective
National and private galleries are also acknowledging the milestone with both retrospective exhibitions and contemporary showings highlighting the current generation of painters from the prolific Western Desert of Central Australia. Of particular note was the recent major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria in collaboration with Museum Victoria and Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art, the most comprehensive collection of early Papunya boards ever shown. This exhibition of close to 200 paintings will open in Paris at the musee du quai Branly on October 8th.
Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd continues to be entirely owned and directed by traditional Aboriginal people from the Western Desert and the work the artists remains highly regarded both within Australia and internationally.