An image of the artwork Tjitji Wirriryba by Simon Hogan

Simon Hogan 
Australia, c.1930 
Pitjantjatjara people, Western Australia
Tjitji Wirriryba 
2009, Tjuntjuntjara, Western Australia
synthetic polymer paint on linen
95.0 x 134.0 cm
South Australian Government Grant 2009
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
© Spinifex Arts Project

    Dr Diana Young
    Director UQ Anthropology Museum
    Lecturer in the School of Social Science
    The University of Queensland

    The University of Queensland Art Museum
    Thursday 4 October
    5.00 pm
    Free. All welcome.
    Refreshments will be served after the lecture

    Tuesday 2 October
    (07) 3365 3046







Western Desert art: another story
An image of the artwork Piltati by Kunmanara (Eileen Yaritja) Stevens  

Kunmanara (Eileen Yaritja) Stevens 
Australia, c.1915 - 2008 
Pitjantjatjara people, South Australia
2005, Nyapari, South Australia
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
105.0 x 150.0cm
Ed and Sue Tweddell Fund for South Australian
Contemporary Art 2005
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
© Kunmanara (Eileen Yaritja) Stevens, Courtesy of Tjungu Palya

Western Desert art is now agreed to have begun in 1971 at Papunya. Indeed it might be argued that this idea has achieved a mythical status. Recently more firsts have been claimed in connection with Western Desert painting. Artists on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands have been hailed as new painters. These stories do not necessarily accord with the artists’ own view of their work and life. Ernabella, set up in 1937 as an enlightened Presbyterian Mission to receive Indigenous people living in the southern region of the Western Desert, boasted a craft room for women founded in 1948. This organization, now owned and controlled by the artists, is known as the mother of all subsequent art centres across the APY Lands. Its 64-year story mirrors the vicissitudes of more recently founded art centres.

Almost all the senior APY artists recently hailed as ‘new’ have previous experience of making work to sell to strangers. Women artists worked in the craft room as young girls while the male painters made artefacts for sale. In this lecture I foreground contemporary APY artists and their own valuation of skill and knowledge as prerequisites for art making set against the demands of the art market and the paintings in the exhibition Desert Country. The material used in the lecture is drawn from various periods: art made in the present, in the late 1980s, that watershed year in Aboriginal affairs 1971, and in the early 1960s. My aim is to illuminate the trajectory of survival for a particular Western Desert ‘art school’ that periodically finds acclaim in the art market.

Diana Young is an anthropologist who carried out her doctoral fieldwork on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in the late 1990s. She has continued working with Anangu. Her research originally centred on the role of novel material colours (in clothing, paints , dyes, foods, cars) in reconfiguring a colonized society. The material in this lecture is drawn from a book on the history of Ernabella Arts that she is completing, to be published by Wakefield Press. This book has been a collaborative project with Ernabella artists and has been supported by AIATSIS and the Gordon Darling Foundation. Dr Diana Young is the Director of the UQ Anthropology Museum and lectures in the School of Social Science at The University of Queensland.

The exhibition Desert Country curated by Nici Cumpston continues until 21 October. Find out more


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