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DOROTHY NAPANGARDI: Combining Spirituality and Artistry

Dorothy Napangardi the daughter of Paddy Lewis and Jean Lewis Napangardi was born in the early 1950s. Dorothy was one of the foremost artists of the modern Aboriginal art movement. The work of this woman was highly sought after by both curators and collectors all over the world.


The prints and paintings of Dorothy Napangardi were widely displayed and are now available in all the national collections in Australia and other major collections across the globe. On the other hand, Dorothy Napangardi had the reputation of being the 2nd aboriginal artist to be offered a solo survey presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), in Sydney. This was used to mark her 11 years of painting career in 1991.


The Life of Dorothy Napangardi

Dorothy Napangardi Robinson – photo by Aboriginal Fine Arts Gallery

Dorothy Napangardi grew up in Yuendumu and spent nearly all her life in Alice Springs, where she started painting in 1987.  She later found a highly original voice and style, despite the fact that she had a bit of formal education. She was, however, tutored in the historic Dreaming of her people. ‘Dreaming’ in this context is a woolly English translation of the word ‘Jukurrpa’, which critically explained the beginning and journeys of inherited beings in the land, and recognised the sacrosanct areas where the spirits dwell.


Dorothy’s work rotated around the sprinkled representations of the landscape around her home town. They surveyed dissimilar and complex representations of its sandhills and salt pans. Even as Dorothy does use colour every now and then, it is likely to be in only a slight and negligible way.


Dorothy Napangardi focused on the movement to grab the attention of the onlooker. A renowned writer and curator confirmed that the success of Dorothy Napangardi as an artist was as a result of her ability to bring to mind a strong sense of movement on her work of arts. She accomplished this feat as a result of her extraordinary spatial intellect and compositional capability.


Dorothy had several groups and unaccompanied presentations both in Australia and abroad. Her art is now available in collections of numerous museums. Dorothy cherished hunting and walking. In addition, she loved listening and looking to her native land, and this gave her the encouragement to paint. She said that she felt a closer connection to her country home by remembering, singing, sitting down, and painting.



Salt on Mina Mina by Dorothy Napangardi – photo by Japingka Aboriginal Art

The career of Dorothy Napangardi was boosted in 2001. She won first prize in the 18th edition of an Art Award for her Salt on Mina work after she had won lesser honours in the same event in 1991 and 1999. She had participated in a lot of art exhibitions and her work was hosted in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2002.


The Jukurrpa theme, normally, is one of the inseparability of the self from the environment and normally entails travelling all over the land. These are concepts that can as well be discovered in the art of Napangardi, with its large amount of crisscross lines signifying spiritual meaning and reminiscent depth. Dorothy’s work is just like people who are running all the way through and all over their country, moving all over their pathways when they travelled.


The Art

Dorothy Napangardi, Mina Mina Dreaming – photo by Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery

In 1971, the modern Indigenous Australian art movement started in the western desert. This was the time the Indigenous men resident at Papunya began painting under the leadership of some elders and their assistants. It was this idea, which used acrylic paints to make designs in place of body painting and ground sculptures, that quickly spread all over the Indigenous communities of central Australia, most especially after the origination of a government-sanctioned art program in 1983.


Such work was shown worldwide by the 1980s and 1990s. The first artists and founders were men and there was even resistance to women painting among the Pintupi men of central Australia. However, a lot of women in the neighbourhoods wanted to take part. This saw many of them beginning to make paintings in the 1990s. In the western desert communities, people started creating artworks specifically for sale and exhibition.


In this context, in Alice Springs, Dorothy Napangardi started learning in Alice Springs together with three other people.


The Death of Dorothy

Unfortunately, Dorothy Napangardi died in a ghastly auto crash on 1 June 2013.

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