Australian Aboriginal art is recognized as one of the longest lasting art making traditions, however, these artists were only introduced to permanent pigment in the last forty years. This movement has been able to flourish because the Australian Government has established community art centers that facilitate use of new materials. Formerly sand and body paints were used to create intricate repetitive patterns for rituals and ceremonies. These works lasted only as long as the ritual or ceremony they embodied. By using permanent materials, the Aboriginal culture can be preserved, shared, and utilized to sustain this community.
Dorothy Napangardi was born in the early 1950s. She is a Warlpiri speaker and originally from the region of Central Australia called Mina Mina, about 400 kilometers northwest of Alice Springs, the jumping off point to the desert. She grew up in a community that lived alongside the native desert animals and plants. In the bush, they hunted and migrated freely. European settlers had been closing in on these communities as early as 1910 when the first gold rush erupted in the region. In 1957, her family located to nearby Yuendumu, a ten year old governmental settlement. There, Dorothy had an arranged marriage and re-located to Alice Springs. After the birth of four daughters, her marriage collapsed, but influenced by self-supporting artist friend and skin sister Eunice Napangardi (skin sister means they had a culturally defined bond linking Warlpiri people to their country) she started painting. The year was 1987; a late starting date for someone with such a developed original style. Dorothy attended the Institute for Aboriginal Development and soon began showing her work in Alice Springs. The Center for Aboriginal Artists and Craftsmen is the Institute’s affiliated gallery. When it expanded to Sydney, the gallery provided Napangardi with her own studio space on the premises. She currently divides her time between Yuendumu, Sydney, and Alice Springs.
The main subject of Napangardi’s work is Dreaming. The English word Dreaming is only an approximate translation of the Warlpiri word Jukurrpa, the actual subject of her work. This word encompasses the travels of her cultures’ ancestral beings; environments where spirits live on earth, and the connectedness of the self and the earth. Napangardi’s Dreaming paintings illustrate the lyrical songs that map the aerial view of these ancient pathways, and have been performed at ceremonies for centures. The Warlpiri culture believes that understanding Jukurrpa insures that life continues. Napangardi’s experimental style of sweeping and delicate brushwork patterning allows her canvases to shimmer with life-like movement. Her most mature work shows her perception of Karantakurlangu Jukurrpa, the Women’s Digging Stick Dreaming, which is tied to her ancestral area Mina Mina. The Warlpiri culture views Mina Mina as the place that digging sticks emerged from the ground. The myth goes that these sticks were picked up by ancient women who danced dragging the wood across the land. This created features in the terrain they treaded on and left the Mina Mina changed forever. These paintings are constructed of dots. They have a limited palette of black, white, and earth tones, and memorialize the treads of Aboriginal women.
First Prize, Eighteenth Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia (2001)
Highly Commended, Sixteenth Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia (1999)
Best Painting in European Media, Eighth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia (1991)
Eighth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Australia (1991)