We’re revisiting some articles from this year’s Art Collector DAAF 2022 Special Edition. Here, Tristen Harwood explores the works of Columbiere Tipungwuti.


 Tiwi Artist Columbiere Tipungwuti brings his experience as a celebrated dancer to his vibrant and dynamic visual arts practice. 


Words by Tristen Harwood, July 2022

Cover image: Artist Columbiere Tipungwuti with his work Kulama. Photo courtesy of the Artist and Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association. Photographer Will Heathcote.

Painter and celebrated dancer Columbiere Tipungwuti brings his experience as a performer and knowledge of Tiwi language and storytelling to his paintings. Based on Wurankuwu Country, Columbiere’s works draw on parlingarri (creation time) stories, ceremonies, and jilamara (body paint design). Tipungwuti’s dynamic personality befits his art practice. An itinerant traveller, Tipungwuti often moves between Tiwi Island communities. He is always sharing his stories, dancing, and laughter, described affectionately by his Art Centre, Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association, as “hard to miss”. 

Image above: Columbiere Tipungwuti. Photo courtesy of Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association.

Tipungwuti has become known for his representations of Japarra (Moonman), a central figure in Tiwi ancestral stories of mortality. As esteemed Tiwi artist Pedro Wonaeamirri describes:

“A long time ago before there were many people on earth, there was a place called Yimpinari, on the eastern side of Melville Island. On this place lived a small family: Purukuparli, Waiyai and Jinani. Purukuparli’s brother Japarra was staying not far away on the other side of the creek. At that time, they were the only people on earth.”

This central Tiwi narrative describes how one day Waiyai leaves Jinani, her son, to be with her brother-in-law Japarra. While she is away, Jinani dies. Distraught, Purukuparli fights Japarra, who ascends to become the moon. Purukuparli holds the first Pukumani (mourning ceremony) for his deceased son. Wayai becomes the curlew bird, whose mournful cries for her son can still be heard today, echoing at night across Country.

“The story of Purukuparli, his wife and son, is important to Tiwi life and culture,” Wonaeamirri continues. “It teaches lessons about life and is also the beginning of our ceremonial culture. Since that time when Purukuparli danced his dead son into the sea at Yimpinari, the Tiwi people have come together for Pukumani ceremony, to sing, dance and farewell the spirit of our family so they can be at rest back on Country. Pukumani ceremony is a grieving ceremony, but it is also a celebration of life. Every dance has a song. The song and dance are how you connect to the land and the spirit of the deceased person. To let go and say goodbye, see you next time on your Country”.

Image above: Columbiere Tipungwuti, Japarra. Locally sourced natural ochres on canvas, 150 x 80cm. Photo courtesy of Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association.

Image above: Columbiere Tipungwuti, Japarra. Locally sourced natural ochres on stringybark, 77 x 32cm. Photo courtesy of Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association.

Tipungwuti’s paintings of Japarra embody this Tiwi story. The Japarra figure wears no ceremonial ornaments, body paint or clothes, unlike Purukuparli and many other Tiwi ceremonial dancers. Japarra is suspended in limbo after bringing mortality to the Tiwi people. In years gone by, there was a strong Tiwi tradition of producing nude figurative ironwood carvings that tell this story. Tipungwuti’s paintings draw on these important cultural influences to create innovative works grounded in his knowledge of the old stories and connection to longstanding practices of storytelling.

Image credit: Artist Columbiere Tipungwuti Milikapiti with his work on Melville Island, Tiwi. Photo courtesy of Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association.

See more from Columbiere Tipungwuti and Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association 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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