Anangu Tjuta at Nyunmanu & Papa Tjukurrpa, Doris Bush Nungarrayi, Synthetic polymer on linen, 2020, 91cmx76cm, Image courtesy of Papunya Tjupi Arts.

Practising Art – a Guide to DAAF 2021  Paintings on Canvas 

If you’ve ever visited an art fair, you’ll know the amazing feeling of seeing SO much art all in the one place. You might also know how overwhelming such a presentation can be!

This is why over the next few months, we’ll be arming you with a comprehensive art guide to this year’s Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, so you’ll feel ready to tackle the offering with the gusto of a seasoned collector. 

We’ll break things down practice by practice – looking at everything from painting to printmaking, weaving to wearable art – introducing you to some of the key regions, Art Centres and artists you can catch at the Fair, who are each true masters of these mediums.  

And what better way to kick off than with the practice of painting! Painting is arguably the most visible medium in contemporary art practice, and often the first thing that comes to mind when you think if Indigenous art. 

But there is so much richness, depth and nuance to First Nations painting practices across Australia and the Torres Strait, from the birthplace of dot painting in the Central Desert, to the uniquely expressive paintings of Far North Queensland, to the dynamic contemporary works by artists in the West. 

Let’s explore. 

Words by Camilla Wagstaff. 

Papunya Tjupi Arts: Puuni Brown Nungarrayi

Located in the Western Desert toward the centre of the country, Papunya is the home ground of Indigenous dot-painting. Over the decades, this instantly recognisable painting style has established itself as a major international contemporary movement. Artists of Papunya Tjupi have established their own unique identity based on the legacy of their forefathers and are known for their strong linework. 

Both established artists and emerging, like the new talent Puuni Brown Nungarrayi, are masters of finding new ways to tell old stories. Puuni learned painting from her mother Isobel Gorey and paints in the same Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) but in a style that is distinctly her own. Punni’s use of intricate line work paired with a reduced colour palette creates overall mesmerising and detailed compositions that keep the viewer coming back for more.

Kapi Tjukurrpa, Puuni Brown Nungarrayi, Synthetic Polymer on Linen. 2021, 91cm x153cm. Image courtesy of Papunya Tjupi Arts.

Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre: Selma Coulthard Brown Nungarrayi

The artists working out of Iltja Ntjarra have become internationally recognised for their scenic watercolour paintings of the West MacDonnell Ranges, which typically embody a more western painting aesthetic. Directed by the relatives of the great and innovative artist Albert Namatjira, this unique painting style has grown in acclaim over the last 80 years.

Accomplished acrylic artist Selma Coulthard recently came to the watercolour painting tradition, taking it up in a way that is distinctly her own. Born in Alice Springs in 1954 and growing up in Urrampinyi (Tempe Downs), Selma’s love for art was a silver lining to the trauma of being forcibly removed from her family and taken to Hermannsburg as a young girl. Her paintings speak to both her traditional homelands and the new home she found within Hermannsburg, and have been exhibited widely in important shows across the country.

Selma Coulthard, photo by Koren Wheatley, courtesy of Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre

Artists of Ampilatwatja: Edie Kemarre Holmes

In the northern most part of the Central Desert region, Artists of Ampilatwatja is an Art Centre renowned for its brightly coloured, very finely dotted landscape paintings, recognisably distinct from other communities. 

Underneath the iridescent surfaces of Ampilatwatja artist Edie Kemarre Holmes’ paintings, there is more than meets the eye. Recognised for her ghost gums and fine dot work, Edie actively reveals only a small amount of cultural information in her paintings, concealing sacred knowledge behind delicately layered dots that form a more common visual narrative. Edie’s paintings also allude to the artist’s generous, peaceful and joyful character.

Antarrengeny, Edie Kemarre Holmes, Acrylic on linen, 2021, 91cm x 61cm, photo by Caroline Hunter, courtesy of Artists of Ampilatwatja

Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency: Lynley Nargoodah 

Nestled in the heart of the Fitzroy Valley in the West Kimberley region of WA, Mangkaja Arts has firmed up a reputation for its distinct and innovative painting style and bold use of colour. 

Helping to lead the charge is Mangkaja director and Arts Worker Lynley Nargoodah who, in addition to her own painting practice, assists in the training and engagement of young people at the Art Centre. Lynley’s striking works follow on from the traditions on her mother’s side, resulting in unique and powerful paintings that also stand as an excellent example of Mangkaja style. 

Recently, the artist turned her hand to curation, curating a series of paintings by Janangoo Butcher Cherel for the 2020 Perth Festival at Fremantle Art Centre. A stalwart advocate for First Nations art, Lynley also sits on both DAAFF and ANKA boards.

Seed Collecting, Lynley Nargoodah, Acrylic on canvas, 2020, 90 x 90cm, photo courtesy of Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

Ngukurr Arts: Wally Wilfred

Travelling to the Top End, a stone’s throw from the banks of the Roper River in Ngukurr, South East Arnhem Land, Ngukurr Arts brings together people and practices from many different clans and language groups. There has never been one distinct school or style at Ngukurr Arts – what is typical of the work is boldness. 

Painting out of the Art Centre is Wägilak man Wally Wilfred, who employs a uniquely bold painting style to tell stories – sometimes about culture, sometimes about the effect that the munanga (white fella) have had on his people and Country. The results are powerful contemporary paintings that stand as a testament to the diversity and innovation of Ngukurr Arts, and Indigenous practice more generally.

Mokuy, Wally Wilfred, acrylic paint on clear acrylic board, 2020, 44cm x 61cm Photo courtesy of Ngukurr Arts

MIART: Agnes Kohler


Mirndiyan Gununa, or MIART, sits on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The painters here are heavily influenced and connected to their land and culture, and their remoteness sees heavy focus on cultural and spiritual subject matter. MIART was instrumental in launching the international artistic career of the late Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, and many of Gabori’s kin still paint at the Art Centre.

Much like Gabori, MIART artist Agnes Kohler came to a formal art practice later in life. But that hasn’t slowed her in developing a unique, contemporary style. Kohler isn’t afraid to break the boundaries and experiment in her practice, creating powerful paintings that speak strongly of a deep connection to Country.

Love Rocks, Agnes Kohler, Acrylic on Belgian linen, 2021, 40 x 50 cm Photo courtesy of MIART


More to come from the ‘Practising Art’ series as we delve into the exciting mediums and artistic practises of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists who’ll be part of DAAF online this August 6-11 2021!

Be sure to check out this year’s program and incredible list of over 70 participating Art Centres: 

Practising Art – Ceramics, Fine Jewellery and Sculpture

Practising Art – Ceramics, Fine Jewellery and Sculpture

Erritja (wedge-tailed eagle), Anita Ratara, Terracotta and Underglazes, 2020, 23.5 cm x 15.5 cm, photo courtesy of Hermannsburg Potters. Practicing Art: A guide to DAAF 2021 ceramics, fine jewellery and sculpture As we come to the final part in our Practising Art...

read more
Practising Art – Textiles and Fashion

Practising Art – Textiles and Fashion

Practising Art – a Guide to DAAF 2021 Textiles and Fashion Over the past few months, we’ve been introducing you to some of the dynamic art mediums you’ll be able to catch at this year’s DAAF online. We hope you’re feeling a little more armed to tackle the amazing...

read more
Practising Art – Weaving and Ghost Net Work

Practising Art – Weaving and Ghost Net Work

Practising Art – a Guide to DAAF 2021 Weaving and ghost net work Calling all art lovers! If you’re gearing up for DAAF 2021 and feel like you need to brush up on your art knowledge, this series is for you. Consider this your comprehensive art guide to this year’s...

read more