Symbols and Storytelling in Wintjiya Napaltjarri’s Work

Installation view of works by Wintjiya Napaltjarri in Marking the Infinite.

“For Wintjiya Napaltjarri, the final act of each painting was all consuming as she surrounded her iconography in a swath of white paint. This illuminated each symbol in the same way that white ochre was used traditionally to encase body paint on naked breasts and arms. Using the wooden handle of a paintbrush, she embarked upon a rhythmic and lyrical process, dipping it deep into a pot of paint and then merging and dabbing dots together until all of the unpainted surface of the linen was covered in white. In my hours of watching this stage, the repetitive sound of this action became an allegory for the pulse of time and the knowledge that is passed through it.” – Sarita Quinlivan, Writer

Watanuma, located northwest of the Kintore Walungurru settlement in the Northern Territory, is associated with the Minyma Kutjarra (Two Women) creation story. This story follows two sisters whose travels shaped the distinctive landscape of the region. Napaltjarri’s painting doesn’t imitate or illustrate topographical features or narrative events but instead uses symbols that allude to the Two Women tale. The ancestral women are indicated by U shapes, while floating comb shapes represent their nyimparra (hair-string skirts). The circles may indicate rock hole formations or the plump fruits of the bush tomato (Solanum chippendalei) that the women gathered on their journeys.

These works are on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.

Meet the Marking the Infinite Artists: Angelina Pwerle

In this series, we introduce the nine artists behind Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, on view at The Phillips Collection June 2–September 9, 2018.

Installation view of works by Angelina Pwerle in Marking the Infinite. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Born c. 1946, Utopia, Northern Territory
Lives and works in Utopia, Northern Territory

Detail of Angelina Pwerle’s “Bush Plum”

Angelina Pwerle lives at Camel Camp, a small outstation in the Utopia region of Australia’s eastern desert. Outstations are remote communities of one or two small buildings that arose in the 1970s as Aboriginal people began leaving government settlements and missions to establish communities on traditional lands. Like many of her peers, her artistic career began with the establishment of the Utopia Women’s Batik Group in 1977. A decade later, she participated in the landmark exhibition A Summer Project, which brought the art of Utopia to national attention. Pwerle’s work is in many significant public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; and the National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan.

“We Are Just Like the Stars”

Gulumbu Yunupingu, Ganyu (Stars), 2003, Earth pigments on bark, 70 7/8 x 31 1/2 in. Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl © The estate of Gulumbu Yunupingu, courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre, Yirrkala. Photo: Sid Hoeltzell

The infinite reaches of space are a primary inspiration for Gulumbu Yunupingu, whose first depictions of stars date to 1999. Stars are frequently found in Yolngu ceremonial painting and relate to significant Dreaming narratives, such as the sisters Guthayguthay and Nhayay who became stars in the Milky Way, and the seven sisters who traveled by canoe, named Djulpan. These stories were taught to Yunupingu by her father, Mungurrawuy. Rather than literally depict these narratives, the artist conceives the stars as a metaphor for the unity of humanity: “We are just like the stars. All gathered close together. We are really as one like the stars.”

This work is on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.