Dorothy Napangardi

When I paint, I think of the old days, as a happy little girl knowing my grandfather's dreaming.

Dorothy Napangardi was an Australian Aboriginal artist, one of the three thousand or so Warlpiri speakers who lived in or were originally from the Tanami desert region of Central Australia. She was born circa 1956 in the area called Mina Mina and grew up in the settlement town of Yuendumu where her father was a senior lawgiver. She had little formal schooling, but was instructed in the historic Dreaming of her people. “Dreaming” is an imprecise English translation of the Warlpiri word Jukurrpa, which describes the origins and journeys of ancestral beings in the land and identifies the sacred places where the spirits presently reside. The Jukurrpa theme is generally one of the inseparability of the self from the environment, and the stories usually include traveling. A Warlpiri speaker is quoted in a catalog of Napangardi’s paintings: “To me, Dorothy’s work is like Yapa [people] running through and across their country, moving across their pathways when they go traveling. That’s what it reminds me of, Yapa crossing paths, crossing one another’s pathways as they go traveling.”

The catalog, Dancing Up Country: The Art of Dorothy Napangardi, was published by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 2002 in conjunction with a major exhibition of her paintings. In it, Christine Nicholls writes that “Dorothy Napangardi’s success as an artist lies in her ability to evoke a strong sense of movement on her canvases, an effect she achieves because of her remarkable spatial sense and compositional ability.” Nicholls goes on to say that the work “can be appreciated on multiple levels,” though indigenous commentators see painting as “a stage for human activity, rather than seeing the geometric aspects of the work.”

In 2001 Napangardi won first prize in the 18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award Festival, Australia. She won lesser prizes in the same festival in 1991 and 1999. She has had many exhibitions in Australia and showed in 2001 at the Sammlung Essl Museum in Vienna, Austria. In 2004 Crown Point Press published a series of her prints and exhibited her paintings and prints in its gallery in San Francisco. The Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco exhibited her paintings in 2005. Napangardi’s work is in the collections of several museums, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and the Linden-Museum Stuttgart in Germany. She was represented by Gallery Gondwana in Alice Springs and Sydney, Australia until the gallery’s closure in 2011. Napangardi died in 2013.

-Kathan Brown, Crown Point Press

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