Exhibition: ‘NGV 150th Felton Bequest Gift – Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th May 2011 – 28th May 2012


Tommy Mitchell (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1943) 'Kurlilypurru' 2009


Tommy Mitchell (Australian / Ngaanyatjarra, c. 1943-2013)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152 x 212cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Tommy Mitchell, courtesy Warakurna Artists Aboriginal Corporation



“This is me: this is mine. The whole lot is me. I been walking all around, I know him proper way, he is always with me…”

Weaver Jack



Someone keyed my car the other day and it sent me into a bit of a downward spiral. Who knows why people do these things – stupidity, boredom, sheer bloody mindedness. This exhibition brought me back from that space to a rejoicing in human creativity and connection. It helped me leave my troubles behind. The stories in these paintings ground you, bring you back to earth through the experience and feeling of colour, movement and stillness.

I, we, cannot understand this ancient culture for it is foreign to us. We are not of it. But we can feel the stories in our own way. While we can’t understand every nuance of symbology and traditional narrative that the paintings contain they can speak to us all as human; we all come from this earth and must return to it. I felt the place from which they emanate, an intimacy with earth, self and soul.

I might not know much about anything, about understanding the vagaries of human beings, but I do know what is honest and truthful, has feeling for the piquancy of life. These paintings let my troubles and vicissitudes drop away and uplifted my spirit. Surrounded by love, by colour, by belonging to earth, sky, water, spirit. A wonderful gift to any human being and a wonderful gift from the Felton Bequest to the National Gallery of Victoria and to all the people of Australia. Go and experience their embrace.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Various artists. 'Ngayarta Kujarra' 2009


Yikartu Bumba (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1940s)
Jakayu Biljabu (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, born c. 1937)
Nyanjilpayi Nancy Chapman (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, born c. 1941)
May Chapman (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1940s)
Doreen Chapman (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1970s)
Linda James (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1984)
Mulyatingki Marney (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1941)
Reena Roger (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1950s)
Beatrice Simpson (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, born c. 1966)
Ronelle Simpson (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, b. 1988)
Muntararr Rosie Williams (Australian / Manyjilyjarra, born c. 1943)
Ngayarta Kujarra
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
300 x 500cm
Felton Bequest, 2011



Ngayartu Kujarra

The artists who collaborated on this work (above) live at Punmu community, on the shore of a vast salt lake, (Lake Dora), which is surrounded by a scattered array of water sources.

The artists from this region are profoundly affectionate and respectful towards the salt lake and the fresh waters hat have sustained htem and their families for as long as memory can stretch.

The women have reproduced the feeling of the salt lake viscerally: their work conveys its immense scale, fine texture, extreme whiteness and shimmering light.


Nyumitja Laidlaw (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1938) 'Kuriella' 2009


Nyumitja Laidlaw (Australian / Ngaanyatjarra, born c. 1938)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
142.3 x 175cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Nyumitja Laidlaw/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia


Kalaju Alma Webou (Yulparija c. 1920-2009) 'Pinkalarta' 2006


Kalaju Alma Webou (Australian / Yulparija, c. 1920-2009)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152 x 152cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Kalaju Alma Webou, courtesy Short Street Gallery/Yulparija Artists from Bidyadanga



Today, 24 May 2011, the National Gallery of Victoria celebrates its 150th birthday.

To honour this tremendous milestone, the NGV today unveiled an exceptional gift of 173 important Indigenous works of art including three by contemporary artists Vernon Ah Kee, Brook Andrew and Jonathan Jones who were commissioned to create works that pay homage to the highly celebrated Wurundjeri artist, William Barak. These pieces have been gifted by the Felton Bequest, established in 1904 by the NGV’s greatest benefactor, Alfred Felton.

The Honourable Alex Chernov, AO, QC, Governor of Victoria and Mrs Elizabeth Chernov were present at the NGV’s unveiling ceremony.

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said: “This is the most significant gift of Indigenous art to the NGV since the Gallery opened its doors for the first time on this date 150 years ago in country of the Kulin nation. It is appropriate on this date both to honour the memory of Alfred Felton and also celebrate the Indigenous art of our country, the world’s oldest continuous visual tradition.”

The gift of 173 works encompasses two exceptional collections: the first comprises 63 nineteenth and early twentieth century shields on display as part of the Australian Art collection, and the second 107 twenty-first century paintings from the Far Western Desert, forming the new exhibition Living Water.

Dr Vaughan said: “This outstanding gift adds tremendous strength to the NGV’s collection of Indigenous Art. Since the NGV first collected Indigenous art, the collection has grown to hold over 3,000 works representing cultures across Australia.

These exciting and dynamic acquisitions will enable the NGV to continue to educate visitors of all ages about the visual art of Indigenous Australians. This gift is a highlight of the NGV’s 150th anniversary year, reminding us of the crucial and continuing role the NGV has played in collecting and displaying the finest art works that can be acquired.

The Barak Commissions pay tribute to one of the most important figures of nineteenth century Australian Indigenous art, acknowledging Barak’s central place in the history of Victoria and the NGV,” said Dr Vaughan.

William Barak was born in country of the Wurundjeri people and became a leading Indigenous artist and figure in Melbourne during the 19th century. He is said to have witnessed John Batman ‘purchase’ Melbourne in 1835.

The multi-media installation by Vernon Ah Kee presents conversations between prominent Indigenous people as they reflect on how Barak has inspired them. Brook Andrew, renowned for his multi-disciplinary works, has created a powerful installation which adorns the entrance atrium at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Jonathan Jones, who works with fluid and dancing light as a metaphor of living culture, has created five light boxes that map important cultural designs belonging to Barak as a way of honouring Barak’s life.

The collection of 63 rare and stunningly beautiful 19th and early 20th century shields is largely contemporary with Barak’s life. The shields serve to remind us of the time when the plains of Southeast Australia contained carved trees bearing elegant inscriptions, with people dressed in possum-skin cloaks and carrying elaborate shields living extraordinary living in harmony with country and ancient beliefs.

The Living Water exhibition unveils the Felton Bequest gift paintings: 107 adventurous works by male and female artists from newly established art centres in the Far Western Desert, an area stretching across far flung parts of Western Australia and South Australia.

This exhibition of 21st century art highlights today’s momentous art movement which originated at Papunya in 1971 when senior men decoded their archival narratives and laws, forging a new form shared by many Indigenous peoples across the Western Desert.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website


Roy Underwood (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1937) 'Mulaya' 2008


Roy Underwood (Australian / Pitjantjatjara born c. 1937-2018)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197 x 135cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Roy Underwood, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project


Simon Hogan (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1930) 'Ilkurlka' 2004


Simon Hogan (Australian / Pitjantjatjara, born c. 1930)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
134.5 x 176.6cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Simon Hogan, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project



Spinifex People

The country of the Spinifex people, who speak a southern dialect of Pitjantjatjara language, consists of vast plains of deep red sand, salt lakes and Spinifex.

In 1998 the community produced a series of ten large paintings that were bequeathed to the people of Western Australia in a symbolic reciprocal exchange of paintings for land. Most Spinifex works, subsequently produced on infrequent painting trips back to country operate as complex maps as well as religious landscapes that detail sources of spiritual power in country belonging to individual artists.


Milatjari Pumani (Yankunytjatjara, b. 1928) 'Ngura Walytja, Antara' 2010


Milatjari Pumani (Australian / Yankunytjatjara, b. 1928)
Ngura Walytja, Antara
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
168.6 x 137.4cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Milatjari Pumani, courtesy Mimili Maku Arts & Crafts



Living Water: Exhibition Background Information

Living Water, an exhibition showcasing 107 contemporary Indigenous paintings by 94 artists from the Felton Bequest Gift, displays works by male and female artists from the Far Western Desert, an area stretching across parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

A modern art movement originated at Papunya in 1971, which has since transformed the way we see the land and the history of art in Australia. Almost forty years after the genesis of the Western Desert art movement, its epicentre has dramatically shifted from Papunya in the Northern Territory to the Pintupi homelands of Kintore and Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert, and to communities that lie hundreds of kilometres to the south and west in far-flung reaches of South Australia and Western Australia (the Far Western Desert).

During the first decade of the 21st century, Pintupi, Spinifex, Anangu, Yulparija and Martu artists have developed a dynamic and fresh expression of Western Desert Art. The male and female artists not only share close kinship, social, linguistic and ritual interconnections and lived experience of desert country built up during pujiman (nomadic, bush) days but also have parallel experiences of making art with introduced materials for the commercial market. Their paintings – bearers of sanctity – resonate with the shock of the ancient made new and tell tjukurrpa (stories) associated with special places in their ngurra (country).This dramatic new wave of acrylic painting is the focus of Living Water, comprising the NGV’s 150th anniversary gift from the Felton Bequest of 107 paintings.

Aboriginal people from across the Western Desert use the term ‘living water’ to describe water sources, including rock holes and soakage waters that are fed by underground springs. The path of these springs was created by the ancestral beings of the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) as they themselves journeyed underground, their entry into the earth often marking the site of current day water sources. ‘Living water’ is revered also because it does not seem to be affected by the harsh conditions above the ground that the people themselves have to endure.

This exhibition has been curated by Judith Ryan, Indigenous Art Curator, NGV. The following groups of people are represented in this spectacular exhibition.


Pintupi people

Pintupi is the name of a Western Desert language spoken by Aboriginal people who belong to a large stretch of country in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia and the western edge of the Northern Territory. When the Pintupi arrived in the government settlements east of their traditional lands between the 1930s and the 1950s, they adopted the term ‘Pintupi’ to distinguish themselves amongst the surrounding Aboriginal inhabitants as the ‘people from the west’.

The Pintupi’s complex relationship to the land of their ancestors is expressed through stories, songs and ritual practice that are also depicted in the acrylic paintings of the artists from the Pintupi communities of Walungurru and Kiwirrkura.


Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjara People

The Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjara people of the tri-state region of the Western Desert constantly interact and are related by kinship, language and genealogy.

Here they specialised in making walka (drawings), batik, punu (wood carvings) and tjanpi weavings, avoiding painting on canvas for the art market until the 21st century because of their suspicion of earlier forms of Western Desert art and their reluctance to disclose sacred elements of men’s and women’s law.


Yulparija People

The Yulparija people originally come from the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, which runs from Telfer in the south to Walungurru in the east and close to Fitzroy Crossing in the north.

Their work contains deep threads of cultural memory and is daring in its vigour of application and iridescent palette. The Yulparija have forged a painting style that combines their cultural memory of desert birth country with the rich blues and greens of saltwater terrain.


Martu People

Martu means ‘one of us’, or ‘person’ and is the word chosen to represent a number of different language groups from country across the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Martu are interconnected to other surrounding peoples from the Great Sandy Desert through their shared country of birth and associated Dreaming stories.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website


Dadda Samson (Kartujarra born c. 1933) 'Puntuwarri' 2009


Dadda Samson (Australian / Kartujarra, born c. 1933)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
124.5 x 293.4cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Dadda Samson, courtesy Martumili Artists


Lawrence Pennington (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1940) 'Kurparu (Magpie)' 2005


Lawrence Pennington (Australian / Pitjantjatjara, born c. 1940)
Kurparu (Magpie)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
138.6 x 92.7cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Lawrence Pennington, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project


Wingu Tingima (Pitjantjatjara c.1917–2010) 'Kungkarakalpa (Seven Sisters)' 2007-09


Wingu Tingima (Australian / Pitjantjatjara, c. 1917-2010)
Kungkarakalpa (Seven Sisters)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
140 x 210cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Wingu Tingima, courtesy Tjungu Palya



The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website


Back to top

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,937 other subscribers

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Blog Stats

  • 12,949,783 hits

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

July 2011



If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,937 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: