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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 1970s and early 1980s, Aboriginal communities sprang up throughout the region, each home to a distinctive art movement.
Like many of her generation, Napurrula witnessed the genesis of the Papunya Tula art movement and the artistic contribution made by members of her immediate family. Napurrula’s brother, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, was one of the founding members of the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative.
Napurrula 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 Napurrula’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 that Napurrula paints is her father’s Tjukurrpa (dreaming) in Ilyingaungau country, in the 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.
Napurrula 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.
Napurrula now lives at an outstation close to Papunya where she continues to paint for Ikuntji Artists, 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
- Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs
- Edith Cowan University Art Collection, Perth
- MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY, DARWIN
- 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
- 2000 Beyond the Pale, Adelaide Festival Exhibition, Art Gallery of South Australia 2000-10-01
- Spirit Country: Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco 1999 1999-10-01
- Ikuntji Tjuta touring exhibition 1997 1997-10-01
- Niagara Galleries 1996-10-01