Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa, by Alma Nungarrayi Granites

This small image gives but a very limited impression of the power and majesty of the original of Alma Nungarrayi Granites’ painting of her Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa (Seven Sisters dreaming).

It is one of a series of large paintings by the Warlpiri artist Alma Nungarrayi Granites, who paints for Warlukurlangu Artists, the locally-owned and operated arts centre here at Yuendumu 300 kilometres or so north-west of Alice Springs in Warlpiri/Anmatyerre country on the southern fringes of the magnificent Tanami Desert.

Nungarrayi comes from a long and proud tradition of Warlpiri artists.

Her father and mother, Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Bessie Nakamarra Sims, are two of the artists that founded Warlukurlangu in the mid-eighties. Artistic talent in the Sims family runs deep and spans the generations – Nungarrayi’s parents Japaljarri and Nakamarra, as well as Nungarrayi and her brothers and sisters all paint with and sell through Warlukurlangu.

Earlier this year Nungarrayi and her daughter Sabrina joined her mother and grandmother in a unique show, entitled “Mother, daughter, granddaughter; Three generations of Yuendumu artists” at Perth’s Kingfisher Gallery . Brother Otto Sims is the chairman of Warlukurlangu.

The rights to paint and the knowledge linked to the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa story have been handed down to Nungarrayi from her father, the last Japaljarri who knows all of the songs and ceremony for the Yiwarra – Milky Way Dreaming.

Nungarrayi’s paintings are powerful multi-level images that draw you in and each raise a hundred or more questions – many of which, for various reasons, will remain unanswered.

I want to take one of Nungarrayi’s Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa – or her other Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa (Star dreaming) paintings out bush on one of those clear starlight-bright nights that we are so often blessed with out here and lay on my back with the painting at arms length above me and read the painting and the skies beyond together.

And Nungarrayi’s story for this particular painting – well, maybe just one of the many stories embedded in them – is that:

The Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa (Seven sisters Dreaming) depicts the story of the seven ancestral Napaljarri
sisters who are found in the night sky today in the cluster of seven stars in the constellation Taurus, more
commonly known as the Pleiades.

The Pleiades are seven women of the Napaljarri skin group and are often depicted in paintings of this Jukurrpa carrying the Jampijinpa man ‘Wardilyka‘ (the Bustard [Ardeotis australis]) who is in love with the Napaljarri-warnu and who represents the Orion’s Belt cluster of stars.

Jukurra- jukurra, the morning star, is a Jakamarra man who is also in love with the seven Napaljarri sisters and is often shown chasing them across the night sky. In a final attempt to escape from the Jakamarra the
Napaljarri-warnu turned themselves into fire and ascended to the heavens to become stars.

The custodians of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are Japaljarri/Jungarrayi men and Napaljarri/Nungarrayi
women. Some parts of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are closely associated with men’s sacred ceremonies.

I’m not quite sure if Nungarrayi will be holding any further solo exhibitions in Australia this year but her work is well represented in any number of galleries in Australia and internationally that specialise in quality Aboriginal art.

If you are in Alice Springs this weekend you can do a lot worse than go along to the Aralauen Arts Centre and catch the Desert Mob show that will be opening there Sunday.

My old mate Paul Kelly will be playing a sold-out show in the Araluen Theatre on Saturday night and on Saturday afternoon many of the locally-owned arts centres scattered throughout central Australia will be selling their wares at the Desert Mob marketplace.

This market is a great way to get hold of a range of modestly-priced works of a great variety from some of the 43 art centres that make up DesArt. I don’t know if you’ll be able to pick up any of Nungarrayi’s painting at the Warlukurlangu booth but you could certainly find out more from the Warlukurlangu staff.

The exhibition is described on the Desart website as a:

…showcase[s of] the latest works from each of the participating Art Centres and includes paintings by some of the leading artists in Australia, together with traditional artefacts, weavings, ceramics and other crafts. Each Art Centre exhibits works by some of its senior artists, together with works by emerging younger artists.

And the the marketplace is:

… a large indoor/outdoor market with stalls selling small and low-priced Aboriginal arts and crafts and related products, such as T shirts, bags, books and calendars from Desart member Art Centres. Popular with both locals and tourists, the market offers a chance of some excellent bargains to early browsers.

Me, I’ll be at home watching the football and looking after the dogs while my partner, who works at Warlukurlangu, will working hard in Alice Springs.

Then on Sunday I’m off through the Tanami Track up to the east and west Kimberleys and then on to the Pilbara to talk to people about birds.

It is really tough out here sometimes…