Mitjili Napurrula

Mitjili Napurrula

Skin name:NapurrulaLanguage:LuritjaDate of birth:1945-09-01From:YumariCommunity:Mount Liebig : NT

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Mitjili Napurrula was born in 1945 at Papunya, 200 kilometres West of Alice Springs. She is the daughter of Tupa Tjakamarra (now deceased) and Tjunkiya Napatljarri. Her mother, Tjunkayi Napaltjarri, was a Pintupi/Luritja woman from Yumari who also became an artist of public repute. Her mother ‘came in’ from the drought-stricken Pintupi/Lurjita country seeking refuge and rations in the remote community of Haasts Bluff (Ikuntji). 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 1970’s and early 1980’s, Aboriginal communities sprang up 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 1980’s 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. She gained an international following after winning the Alice Springs Art Prize in 1999.

In Mitjili’s winning painting, Untitled (1999), coagulated white pigment eddies 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 the artist’s confidence in her individual artistic vision within a family of superlative 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 (Gibson Desert). This was passed down to her by her mother; she 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.

Mitjili and her brother, Tjupurrula had the same father, Tupa Tjakamarra, from whom they both inherited the right to paint works related to Ilyingaungau. This site, south of Walungurru (Kintore), some 520 kilometres west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), is where the artist’s Mutikatjirri ancestors assembled their kulata (spears) for a conflict with the Tjukula men. Allusive works that refer to the straightening of kulata by Tjupurrula are among the landmark paintings of the movement’s history.

Mitjili lived at an outstation close to Papunya where she continued to paint for Ikuntji Artists until April 2019, along side her family and fellow artists such as Ann Lane nee Dixon. 


  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Artbank
  • Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
  • Edith Cowan University Art Collection, Perth

Current Exhibitions

Upcoming Exhibitions

Past Exhibitions

  • Redrock gallery, June Group Exhibition, Gallery Grand Opening Beijing, P.R China 2019-03-25
  • 12th Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair 2018-08-10
  • Watiya Juta | Mitjili Napurrula - Michell Fine Art, Brisbane. 2018-04-04
  • 2008 Black & White: Inspired by Landscapes, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney 2008-10-01
  • Redrock gallery, August Group Exhibition, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Beijing, P.R China 2007-08-01
  • Redrock gallery, July Group Exhibition China World Exhibition Centre, Beijing P.R China 2007-07-01
  • Redrock gallery, Group Exhibition, Relocation Exhibition, South Yarra, Aust 2006-01-01
  • Redrock gallery Opening Exhibition, Como Centre, Melbourne 2005-01-01
  • Aboriginal Art Galerie Bahr, Speyer, Germany 2002-01-01
  • Galerie Knud Grothe, Charlottenlund, Denmark 2001-01-01
  • Redrock gallery, November Group Exhibition, International Art Expo, Beijing, P.R China 2000-11-01
  • 2000 Beyond the Pale, Adelaide Festival Exhibition, Art Gallery of South Australia 2000-10-01
  • Aboriginal Art Galerie Bahr, Speyer, Germany 2000-01-01
  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 2000-01-01
  • Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 2000-01-01
  • Spirit Country: Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco 1999 1999-10-01
  • Aboriginal Art Galerie Bahr, Speyer, Germany 1999-01-01
  • Hogarth Galleries, Sydney 1999-01-01
  • Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT. 1999-01-01
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, U.S.A. 1999-01-01
  • Flinders Art Museum Flinders University, Adelaide 1999-01-01
  • Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT. 1998-01-01
  • Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 1998-01-01
  • Art Gallery, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 1998-01-01
  • Spazio Pitti Arte Florence, Italy 1998-01-01
  • Framed Gallery, Darwin 1998-01-01
  • Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne 1998-01-01
  • Gallerie Dusseldorf, Perth 1998-01-01
  • Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs 1998-01-01
  • Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Darwin 1998-01-01
  • Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 1998-01-01
  • Adelaide Fringe Festival 1998, Adelaide, SA. 1998-01-01
  • National Indigenous Heritage Art Award 1998, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra 1998-01-01
  • Ikuntji Tjuta touring exhibition 1997 1997-10-01
  • Arnhem Land, The Netherlands 1997-01-01
  • Alliance Francaise, Canberra 1997-01-01
  • Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT. 1997-01-01
  • Goteborgs Konstforening, Goteborg, Sweden 1997-01-01
  • Hogarth Galleries, Sydney 1997-01-01
  • Aboriginal Art Galerie Bahr, Speyer, Germany. 1997-01-01
  • Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Darwin 1997-01-01
  • National Indigenous Heritage Art Award 1996, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra 1996-01-01
  • Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Darwin 1996-01-01
  • Niagara Galleries, Melbourne 1996-01-01
  • Gallerie Australis, Adelaide 1996-01-01
  • "The Meeting Place" - touring exhibition, Australia 1996-01-01
  • Hogarth Galleries, Sydney 1995-01-01
  • Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne 1995-01-01
  • Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Darwin 1995-01-01
  • Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT. 1994-01-02
  • National Indigenous Heritage Art Award 1994, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra 1994-01-02
  • Hotel Shangri-la and Australian High Commision, Singapore. 1994-01-02
  • Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne 1994-01-02
  • Art Gallery of N.S.W., Sydney 1994-01-01
  • Adelaide Fringe Festival 1994, Adelaide, SA. 1994-01-01
  • National Indigenous Heritage Art Award 1993, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra. 1993-01-01