We’re revisiting some articles from this year’s Art Collector DAAF 2022 Special Edition. Here, Tristen Harwood explores Papulankutja Artists’ Joy Nginana Lyons’ approach to art. 


Ngaanyatjarra artist Joy Nginana Lyons’ detailed paintings are heavenly translations of her family’s Tjukurrpa.


Words by Tristen Harwood, July 2022

Cover image: Joy Nginana Lyons out on Country with her artwork ‘Kungkarrangkalpa’ (Seven Sisters). Photo by Athena Hook, courtesy of Papulankutja Artists Aboriginal Corporation.

Joy Nginana Lyons is rapidly rising to national prominence. The Ngaanyatjarra artist is finalist in the 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards and her work has also included in Revealed 2022 at Fremantle Art Centre. Through her detailed paintings, Lyons explores visual representations of her family’s Tjukurrpa (Dreaming), sharing Ngaanyatjarra culture and tradition. 
Above: Joy Nginana Lyons, Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) (Cat #149-22). Acrylic on cotton canvas, 101 x 122cm. Opposite: Joy Nginana Lyons, Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) (Cat #30-22). Acrylic on cotton canvas, 61 x 61cm. Photos courtesy of the Artist and Papulankutja Artists Aboriginal Corporation.

Lyons is one of seven siblings, three of whom are also practicing artists and leaders in the next generation of Papulankutja artists. Lyons and her siblings grew up travelling on foot throughout Ngaanyatjarra lands, with their mother’s Country being Wanarn and their father’s Country around Blackstone.

In her paintings, Lyons depicts the Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) Tjurkurrpa, a story passed down to her by her mother, Edith Lyons, a highly regarded painter of the early Ngaanyatjarra art movement. Kungkarrangkalpa tells the story of how  Nyiru, who fell in love with a family of sisters but was of the wrong skin group to marry, continues to pursue them. The sisters travel across the land to escape Nyiru’s unwanted advances, but he is persistent and always finds them. 
Significant Ngaanyatjarra landforms correspond to parts of the story. As Nyiru chases the sisters he tries to catch them by using magic to turn into a tempting kampurarrpa (bush tomato) as well as a beautiful yirli (wild f ig tree), for them to eat and camp under. However, the sisters are knowledgeable and outwit Nyiru again and again. Eventually, they ascend into the sky to escape Nyiru, forming the cluster of stars known within many cultures as the Seven Sisters. Nyiru felt lonely, longing for the sisters who were so far away. Nyiru uses his magic to also become part of the sky, forever in pursuit. Lyons paints highly intricate patterns of dots to depict the story Kungkarrangkalpa as it moves through land and sky Country.

Above: Joy Nginana Lyons, Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) (Cat #92 x 122). Acrylic on cotton canvas, 92 x 112cm. Photo courtesy of the Artist and Papulankutja Artists Aboriginal Corporation.

Image above: Joy Nginana Lyons, Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters), Acrylic paint, gesso on cotton canvas, 101 x 152cm, 2022. Photo by Athena Hook, courtesy of Papulankutja Artists Aboriginal Corporation.

During her childhood, Lyons’ family travelled throughout the Ngaanyatjarra and Aṉangu Pitjantjatjarra Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands visiting relatives and maintaining cultural responsibilities. Lyons remembers travelling across Country, learning the stories of her land as they walked. Her mother passed on to Lyons and her siblings a deep knowledge of Ngaanyatjarra heritage, law and culture. Lyons approaches her art with this lived and felt matrilineal wisdom.
See more from Joy Nginana Lyons and Papulankutja Artists HERE

This article originally appeared in the Art Collector 2022 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Special Edition, head here to read more.

Cover Art by Jane Margaret, Tipuamantumirri, Jilamara, 2021. Watercolour and lead pencil with black gouache, 29 x 38.5cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Ngarumanajirri.

Contributor Tristen Harwood is an Indigenous writer, editor, and researcher residing in Naarm (Melbourne).

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