Collection: Dorothy Robinson Napangardi

Artist: Dorothy Robinson Napangardi 
Skin Name: Napangardi
Born: c.1956 – 2013
Region: Yuendumu, Central Australia
Language: Warlpiri
(Dreaming): Rain, Salt on Mina Mina, Sandhills, Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa, Karlanu, Women’s Dreaming & Yuparli

Dorothy Napangardi (c.1956-2013) was the master of movement. Her dotted representations of the landscape around her country are truly captivating and have made her one of the most well-known Australian Aboriginal artists. Dorothy had great success both in Australia and overseas, and some of her many achievements include winning the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2001, a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003 and being included in the Sydney Biennale in 2012.

Dorothy Napangardi was the daughter of Indigenous Australians Jeannie Lewis Napururrla and Paddy Lewis Japanangka, born in the early 1950s in a location referred to as Mina Mina, near Lake Mackay in the Tanami Desert. Napangardi (in Warlpiri) or ‘Napangati’ (in Western Desert dialects) is a skin name, one of sixteen used to denote the subsections or subgroups in the kinship system of central Australian Indigenous people. These names define kinship relationships that influence preferred marriage partners and may be associated with particular totems. Although they may be used as terms of address, they are not surnames in the sense used by Europeans. Thus ‘Dorothy’ is the element of the artist’s name that is specifically hers.

She grew up in the settlement town of Yuendumu, and spent most of her life in Alice Springs, where she began painting in 1987 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 reside. The Jukurrpa theme, generally, is one of the inseparability of the self from the environment and usually includes travelling across the land. These are notions than can also be found in Napangardi’s art, with its profusion of intersecting lines suggesting spiritual meaning and evocative depth. In the words of a Warlpiri speaker quoted in a catalogue of Napangardi’s work: “To me, Dorothy’s work is like Yapa (people) running through and across their country, moving across their pathways when they go travelling.”

The contemporary Indigenous Australian art movement began in the western desert in 1971, when Indigenous men at Papunya took up painting, led by elders such as Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, and assisted by teacher Geoffrey Bardon. This initiative, which used acrylic paints to create designs representing body painting and ground sculptures, rapidly spread across Indigenous communities of central Australia, particularly following the commencement of a government-sanctioned art program in central Australia in 1983.] By the 1980s and 1990s, such work was being exhibited internationally. The first artists, including all of the founders of the Papunya Tula artists’ company, had been men, and there was resistance amongst the Pintupi men of central Australia to women painting. However, many women in the communities wished to participate, and in the 1990s many began to create paintings. In the western desert communities such as Kintore, Yuendumu, Balgo, and on the outstations, people were beginning to create art works expressly for exhibition and sale. In Alice Springs, Napangardi began to learn alongside Polly Watson Napangardi, Margaret Lewis and Eunice Napangardi.

In 2001 Napangardi won first prize in the 18th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award for her work Salt on Mina Mina, after winning lesser prizes in the same festival in 1991 and 1999.
She had many exhibitions in Australia and overseas. In 2002, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney hosted an exhibition of Napangardi’s work. Discussing the artist’s work, expert Christine Nicholls wrote 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… [Her work] can be appreciated on multiple levels”, though indigenous commentators tend to see painting as “a stage for human activity, rather than seeing the geometric aspects of the work.” At the time of the exhibition, fellow artist Kathleen Petyarre thought there were parallels between Napangardi’s approach to her work and that of Emily Kngwarreye.

Internationally, US-based 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 a solo exhibition in 2005. She was included in a range of group shows, including in 2001 at the Sammlung Essl Museum in Vienna, Austria.

Napangardi’s work is found in many museums and collections worldwide, such as: the Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, CA, USA; the Kaplan-Levi Collection, Seattle, USA; the Vroom Collection, The Netherlands; the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Queensland Museum, Brisbane. She is represented by Gallery Gondwana in Alice Springs and Sydney. She lived and worked in Alice Springs.
Napangardi was killed in a car accident on 1 June 2013.
Highest price paid for Dorothy Napangardi painting 122cm x 152cm – AU$129,750 at Sotherby’s – Melbourne 24-11-09

18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards Darwin
National Gallery of Australia
National Gallery of Victoria
Art Gallery of South Australia
Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory
Queensland Museum
Linden Museum Stuttgart Germany
The Kelton Foundation Santa Monica LA USA
The Kaplan-Levi Collection Seattle USA
The Vroom Collection, the Netherlands
The Erskine Collection, NSW, Australia
The Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth, WA, Australia
The Australia Council Collection, Sydney, Australia
South Australian Festival Centre Foundation, Adelaide, Australia
The Homesglen Institute of TAFE Collection, Victoria, Australia
The Holmes a’ Court Collection, Perth, WA
The LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut, USA

Selected Exhibitions
2012 ‘Ancestral Modern’, Seattle Art Museum Seattle, USA
2012 ‘All Our Relations’, Biennale of Sydney, MCA Sydney NSW
2011 ‘Almanac: The Gift of Ann Lewis AO’ MCA toruing exhibition
2011 ‘Wet Paint’ Flinders Lane Gallery Melbourne VIC
2010 ‘All is Calm’ Fireworks Gallery Brisbane QLD
2009 ‘Sculpture and works on paper’ Fire-Works Gallery Brisbane QLD
2008 Black & White: Inspired by Landscapes, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney NSW
2008 ‘From the Air’ Fire-Works Gallery Brisbane QLD
2007 ‘Divas of the Desert’ Gallery Gondwana Sydney & Alice Springs
2007 ‘Country in Mind: Dorothy Napangardi’ Fire-Works Gallery Brisbane QLD
2006 ‘Karnta-kurlangu Jukurrpa’, Gallery Gondwana, Sydney NSW
2005 Dorothy Napangardi Hosfelt Gallery San Francisco USA
2004 ‘Dorothy Napangardi’, Gallery Gondwana, Sydney NSW
2003 ‘Collectors Show’, Gallery Gondwana at The Depot Gallery, Sydney NSW
2003 ‘Dancing Up Country; the work of Dorothy Napangardi’. Asia Tour. Asialink in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art tour to Vietnam Fine Art Museum in Hanoi and the National Art Gallery, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
2002-2003 ‘Dancing up Country: the work of Dorothy Napangardi’, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)- Level 4 Galleries 140 George Street The Rocks Sydney NSW
2003 Dorothy Napangardi New Paintings Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2002 ‘One Mother’, Dorothy Napangardi and Sabrina Nangala, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
2002 ‘Native Title Business – Contemporary Indigenous Art ‘National Travelling Exhibition, Gurang Land Council (Aboriginal Corporation), QLD
2002 Indecorous Abstraction – Contemporary Women Painters, Light Sq. Gallery AIT ARTS Adelaide SA
2002 Melbourne ArtFair 2002, Melbourne VIC
2002-03 ‘Dancing Up Country; the work of Dorothy Napangardi’ – Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA, Sydney NSW
2002 ‘Kana-kurlangu’ Dorothy Napangardi – Gallery Gondwana at The Depot Gallery, Sydney NSW
2001 ‘alice.fitzroy@af’, Alliance Francaise de Canberra and French Embassy, A.C.T.
2001 ‘Country After Rain’, Framed Gallery – The Darwin Gallery, Darwin NT
2001 ‘ Dreamtime – The Light and the Dark’, Sammlung Essl, Vienna, Austria
2001 ‘Mina Mina’, Solo, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
2001 ’18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award’, Darwin NT
2001 ‘Masterwork’, Viveien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2001 ‘Dorothy Napanagardi, New Paintings’, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2000 ‘Dorothy Napangardi and Walala Tjapaltjarri, Adelaide Festival, Gallery Australis, SA
2000 ‘Dorothy Napangardi’, Hogarth Gallery, Sydney NSW
2000 ‘Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award’, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra ACT
2000-01 ‘The Art of Place Exhibition’, Australian Heritage Commission, Old Parliament House, Canberra ACT
2000 ‘Songlines: Walala Tjapaltjarri & Dorothy Napangardi’, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
2000 ’17th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award’, Darwin NT
2000 ‘Melbourne ArtFair 2000’, Melbourne VIC
2000 Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
1999 ‘ Treading Softly’, Chapman Gallery, Canberra ACT
1999 ‘Painting the Desert’, Alliance Francaise de Canberra and French Embassy, Canberra ACT
1999 ‘Recent works by Dorothy Napangardi and Walala Tjapaltjarri’, Vivian Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
1999 ‘Recent works by Dorothy Napangardi’, Chapman Gallery, ACT
1999 ’16th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award’, Darwin NT
1999 ‘The Redlands Westpac Art Prize’, Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney NSW
1999 ‘My Country – Journey of our Ancestors’, Ancient Earth Indigenous Art, Cairns QLD
1998 ‘Warlpiri Women’ , Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
1998 ‘Napangardi Dreaming – Ceremony and Song’, Hogarth Gallery, Sydney NSW
1998 N.T. Art Award, Alice Springs NT
1998 ’15th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award’, Australia
1991 ‘8th National Aboriginal Art Award’, Darwin NT

2001 First Prize, 18th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Darwin Australia
1999 Highly Commended – 16th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Darwin Australia
1998 Northern Territory Art Award Alice Springs NT
Award Darwin NT

2007 Country in Mind: Dorothy Napangardi – stories from mina mina & Yvonne Mills-Stanley – stories from the long paddock Fire-Works gallery Brisbane Australia (Catalogue)
2006 Dreaming Their Way – Australian Aboriginal Women Painters, National Museum of Women in the Arts. Washington, USA Published by Scarla Publishers Ltd, Northburgh House, London
2005 Imagined Worlds – Willful Invention and the Printed Image
2004 Our Country, Our Art – Welcome to the Art of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Artists
2002 Dancing up Country – The art of Dorothy Napangardi Published by Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay Sydney Australia Bibliography