BORN: c. 1945
LANGUAGE: Luritja/ Pintupi
COUNTRY: Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu)
Wentja was born circa 1945 near Ilpilli, an outstation halfway between Kintore and Mt Liebig.
She is a highly talented artist with an accomplished and distinctive style. Her Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) was handed down to her by her father Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi, who was born on the same lands. Shorty was one of the original founders of the Western Desert art movement. Together, father and daughter hunted bandicoot, goanna and echidna and dug for Macu (witchety grubs), and these animals now form part of Wentja’s Tjukurrpa.
Forced to leave their lands after the arrival of the Europeans, the family journeyed an incredible distance east to reach the ration depot at Haasts Bluff. Along the way they had contact with some of the most influential members of the community who had been at Papunya when it was first established.
Whilst at Haasts Bluff, Napaltjarri met her husband, Ginger Tjakamarra, who was also the son of a famous artist, being Makinti Napanangka. The couple eventually moved to Papunya, where Wentja started painting as her father’s apprentice. Her early training with her father helped to develop her most important works – particularly the story of two goannas mating and going into a hole – inherited directly from Shorty.
Napaltjarri’s early system of connecting concentric circles and dotted bands have been replaced by mesmerising fields of tonal colours. Her paintings display a key motif, in most cases a large roundel, which represents an important rock hole where her family regularly camped. Surrounding the rock hole is a charged energy field of intricate dots – the soft dotting technique being characteristic of many Mount Liebig artists. Whilst she works, Wentja sings about the rock hole, and the songs and music are incorporated into her paintings.
Napaltjarri’s works have been highly sought for the past decade, being included in such major collections as the Kerry Stokes and Thomas Vroom Collections, the National Aboriginal Art and Culture Institute in Adelaide, and in many State Gallery and University collections.
Napaltjarri has been a finalist in the Telstra National and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award from 2001-2004 and again from 2006-2008. She has been included in leading Australian and International exhibitions, including Masterpieces from the Western Desert, held in London in 2008.