History and Culture

Art of Central Australian Desert

Central Desert Art

Some 30 0kms north of Alice Springs in 1983 in the traditional land of the Warlpiri, there emerged Central Desert Art or alternatively known as Yuendumu Art. Unlike its sister community Papunya, the painting movement at Yuendumu began in a more subdued manner by way of senior Warlpiri women decorating small artefacts  & canvas boards, an exercise encouraged at the time by research anthropologists Francoise Dussart and Meredith Morris.

Twelve months later in 1984 Art form the Central Desert gained momentum when several male elders at the request of the school head master began painting their Dreaming designs on 36 school doors. Soon after, the transition of acrylic paint to canvas was well underway. One noticeable feature of the Yuendumu style as opposed to the minimalist Papunya style was that central desert artists were given absolute freedom in their choice of painting colours. They dared to use bright pinks, purples, greens and yellows.

Apart from colour vibrancy – paintings were also distinguished by large brush strokes, an exciting spontaneity, a strong sense of symmetry, both abstract and figurative imagery along with a noticeable contemporary air. Painting content also varied between sexes; with women’s works emphasizing aspects of nuture, procreation, activities of food gathering, whilst men’s paintings were very much associated with ancestor journeys and places of ceremonial importance.

As a result of strong cohesion amongst Central Desert artists, the 1990’s onward, have seen Yuendumu artists undertake significant large collaborative paintings as well as maintaining a major interstate and overseas exhibition programme.


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