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Wind and Water

Jan 13, 2022

We’re revisiting some articles from this year’s Art Collector DAAF 2021 Special Edition.


Puuni Brown Nungarrayi hails from a generation of Papunya painters carrying on a formidable legacy with a fresh twist. 

Words by Andrew Nicholls, July 2021

Papunya is iconic in the history of modern Australian art. Located around 250 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, practically at the centre of the continent, the tiny community of around 400 residents is popularly understood as the cradle of the contemporary Aboriginal art movement. Its artists have garnered international recognition since the early 1970s, establishing dot painting as a (publicly-accessible) derivation of traditional sand and body designs. 

While the senior artists who paint with the area’s Art Centre Papunya Tjupi are among the most collectible in Australia, new generations are establishing their own take on this formidable legacy. Among the community’s rising art stars is Puuni Brown Nungarrayi, who has been painting for just under five years, only picking up a brush in her late thirties. Nonetheless, she has become a constant presence at the Art Centre.

Banner and above image | Puuni Brown Nungarrayi, Kapi Tjukurrpa, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist and Papunya Tjupi Arts.

Nungarrayi was born in 1979 at the important cultural site of Karrinyarra, but grew up in Papunya, around 50 kilometres to the south. Though only coming to art in recent years, she has spent her life surrounded by the powerful women artists who have helped build the community’s reputation, including her mother Isobel Gorey Nambajimba, one of the community’s most collectible painters, and an Art Centre Director. Nungarrayi appreciates the similarities in the stories that she and her mother paint, but has been successful in creating her own distinct style, noting “I am watching [her], but I do it like this one, different.”

“I come and sit in the studio and make paintings every day, I like painting, sitting down and painting with everyone,” Puuni Brown Nungarrayi says.

Like her mother, Nungarrayi’s finely patterned canvases depict Kapi Tjurrpa (Water Dreaming), the heavy desert rains that fall during the summer at her grandfather’s Country Wantupunyu, near her birthplace, 50 kilometres northwest of the community. The central forms in her paintings represent important waterholes, with her mesmerising linework depicting the lightning, clouds, wind, rain, and the water flowing into dry creek beds. 

These rhythmic compositions recall her grandmother’s stories of the significance of water for the regeneration of nature and bush tucker.

Nungarrayi recalls,

“that old lady Nangala talking, singing and drawing in the sand,”

relating the stories of her traditional Country to her as a child.

“Rain and water are important for the desert, at Wantupunyu the bush onions grow,”

Puuni continues, noting how the community’s Elders will sing to the distant lightning during the region’s summer storms to encourage it to bring more rain to replenish the parched land.

The artist enjoys visting Wantupunyu after the rain, and viewing the rock pools and budding vegetation, and her subsequent canvases depict the water bubbling up from below ground, water that she notes has been living there for a long time. 

“Rain and water are important for the desert, at Wantupunyu the bush onions grow,” Puuni Brown Nungarrayi says.

Nungarrayi is excited to be representating Papunya Tjupi at this year’s Fair, stating that the forthcoming exhibition makes her feel “…palya, happy. It makes me proud, and my family and friends.” In 2021, Nungarrayi has exhibited at Honey Ant Gallery in Sydney, and RAFT Artspace in Alice Springs, and she is part of a group show at McCulloch & McCulloch in Melbourne later in the year. 

Left image | Puuni Brown Nungarrayi in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Above image | Puuni Brown Nungarrayi, Kapi Tjukurrpa, 2021. Photo courtesy of Papunya Tjupi Arts.

See more from Puuni Brown Nungarrayi and Papunya Tjupi Arts HERE

This article originally appeared in the Art Collector 2021 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Special Edition, head here to read more.

Cover Art by Madeline Purdie, Boabs After the Fire. Natural earth pigments and synthetic fixative on canvas, 60 x 60cm. Courtesy of the artist and Warmun Arts.

Contributor Louise Martin-Chew is a freelance arts writer and arts historian.

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