• Artwork:Sandhills
  • Artist:Dorothy Napangardi
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Sandhillsby Dorothy Napangardi

The cover of this journal depicts an reproduction image of an artwork titled Sandhills by Dorothy Napangardi Robertson. Dorothy represents her country through minimalistic renditions of sandhills in intricate, repetitive lines of fine dots giving form and movement to the painting's surface. It appears as though each grain of sand is highlighted along with delicate injections of coloured lines in yellow, red and orange that hint at the underlying surface of the shifting sands.

The rippling effect of fine white dots lined up on the black background in Napangardi's Sandhills of Mina Mina is like marble. Mina Mina is a large dry claypan area with two huge soakages. When water soaks through the earth and dries, a residue salt crust is left on the uplifted edges of dry earth-this is what Napangardi shows in her paintings.

'Mina Mina' is not only the name of the desert area, it is also the name of a highly significant women's ceremonial site and Jukurrpa (or Dreaming) story. According to Napangardi, a group of ancestral Napangardi and Napanangka women gathered to collect ceremonial kuturu or digging sticks before performing ceremonies while travelling to Jankinyi, a site in the east. The tracks of the women on their journey match those of the salt lines formed in the desert. A stand of eucalyptus trees are the remains of the digging sticks at the site.

Text @ National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

  • Artist:Dorothy Napangardi
  • Title:Sandhills
  • ID:AB001
  • Medium:Hard cover A5 approx 112 blank pages
  • Size:16 x 22 cm
  • Region:Yuendumu, Central Australia


Dorothy Napangardi was a wonderful and extremely talented artist. I (Sabine Haider, Director of Central Art) enjoyed meeting with her and listening to her share her Dreaming stories through her artworks. She was a shy woman however once she got to know you she would open up and had a very good sense of humour. Sadly, Dorothy passed away in a tragic car accident in June 2013 whilst on a hunting trip between Yuendumu and Alice Springs. The art world has lost a valuable member who shared her Dreaming's  love of her country and amazing individual and unique style of depiction. Dorothy is a highly collectable artist and I would not hesitate to recommend purchasing her works.

Dorothy Napangardi was born in approximately 1956, it is hard to give an exact year as she was born in the bush in the Tanami Desert and there were no records for “bush births” at the time. Her country is Mina Mina. Dorothy grew up in Yuendumu Community which is approximately 3 hours from Alice Springs in Central Australia. Dorothy’s father, Paddy Lewis Japanangka, a senior lawgiver, who continues to reside in Yuendumu. Dorothy’s mother was Jeannie Lewis Napurrurla and the family was completed with another sister, two brothers and a half sister from Jeannie’s first marriage.

Dorothy grew up travelling around Mina Mina with her family and extended family, living off bush tucker and learning her culture in a traditional setting. As a young girl she was taught women’s Dreaming stories which were passed down to her from her grandfather on her father’s side, whose country was Mina Mina. It wasn’t until much later that she was actually given permission to paint this, or depict it in any form.

As a young girl her family was forcibly moved to Yuendumu Community, a large settlement which was set up by the government of the time. Her family were miserable and eventually ran away back to the desert and lived there, continuing to travel around. As she grew up she was promised to an older man and eventually married him, together they had four daughters. The family eventually relocated to Alice Springs but the marriage did not succeed and they eventually separated. Rather than return to Yuendumu Community, Dorothy decided to remain in Alice Springs where she met Eddie Airbourne from Queensland and they had a daughter together.

Dorothy is one of around 3,000 Warlpiri speaks who live or are from the Tanami Desert region of Central Australia. Although Dorothy had minimal formal western schooling, she was instructed and learnt the historic Dreaming of her people, in Warlpiri this is referred to as the Jukurrpa, which describes the origins and journeys of the ancestral beings in the land and identifies the sacred places where spirits reside. It is remarkable that Dorothy chose to remain in Alice Springs, away from the country she loved and her extended family however for art lovers it was to be a wonderful decision.

Whilst living in Alice Springs Dorothy took up painting in 1987 with the Centre for Aboriginal Artists and Craftsman. Her earliest works were colourful floral patterns which depicted the growth of the bush banana. They appeared semi naturalistic in their representations. In 1990 Dorothy began working for Gallery Gondwana and she continued to work with them until the gallery closed its doors in 2010. The friendship and solid working relationship between Dorothy and the gallerist spanned 20 years and both were very influential and important to one another.

In 1997 she moved away from the Bush Banana and Plum depictions and started Women’s Dreaming, preferring more restrained patterns which often chequer or radiate in black and white. At times she will add some extra colour with yellow or red. This new style led to many accolades from the art world. Unlike many other Aboriginal artists Dorothy minimises all references to the customary Aboriginal iconography. This shift in her depictions led to winning the 2001 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA), the most prestigious art award in Australia. The artwork was titled Salt on Mina Mina. Prior to that she had won several other awards and been a selected entrant on more than one occasion for the NATSIAA. In 2002 she had a major solo exhibition and book published titled “Dancing Up Country. The Art of Dorothy Napangardi” by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. In it, Aboriginal art expert 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. Her work can be appreciated on multiple levels” (Nicholls, 2002).

Dorothy’s Women’s Stories represent the long journeys the women ancestors would make from Mina Mina as they walked and danced carrying their digging sticks. The paintings evoke this complex narrative with the dance and movement of the women. Her Jukurrpa and country feature in all of her works. The Jukurrpa theme is inseparable from the environment and includes travelling across the land; it is these notions that can be found in Dorothy’s works with a profusion of intersecting lines which suggest the spiritual meaning. Her primary artwork depictions are titled; Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa (Inland sea) Karlangu (digging sticks), Yuparli (bush banana) and Women’s Dreaming.

Passing on her knowledge and skills Dorothy has taught two of her daughters Sabrina and Julie, who are now active artists. Prior to her death Dorothy was a professional artist who fully supported herself and her daughters with her artworks. In 2009, one of Dorothy’s artworks sold for $129,750 at a Sotherby’s auction in Melbourne. The Australian Indigenous Art Market ranks her as the 21st most collectable Australian Aboriginal Artist. She was commissioned by the South Bank Corporation’s Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre to recreate one of her Sandhill artworks into a 2000 square metre carpet which is now on permanent display in the Plaza Gallery. In 2012 she became the first Indigenous Australian artist to have work accepted by Art Cologne, and also had her work displayed in Ancestral Modern, an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum.

Although choosing to have her base in Alice Springs, she never forgot her country and would love to go hunting and walking when back in Mina Mina, when there, she would look and listen to what the country was telling her. This was the ultimate inspiration behind her artworks. Through painting, sitting down and singing and remembering, Dorothy explained that during those times she felt a closer connection to her country. Dorothy’s family was the most important thing to her and influenced all of her decision making. She died whilst on a hunting trip, surrounded by family, although in a tragic accident, it was where her heart always was.

Dorothy Napangardi will always be remembered for being a truly inspirational artist, using her artwork as a way to connect to her country and culture as well as being able to sustain her lifestyle and that of her family. Her works are held by major collectors in Australia and the US. I have several in my permanent collection and in my home and they provide me with a calming influence when I just sit and admire them. She has held countless exhibitions and won multiple art awards throughout her career. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her works as investment pieces. For novice collectors and art lovers, there are smaller pieces which are affordable as well.

She will truly be missed not only as a famous and talented artist but as a quiet and humble person who was able to use her strength, knowledge and teachings of her culture and heritage in a westernised world and flourish.
Out of respect of Aboriginal culture and Dorothy’s family Central Art has removed her photograph. Naming Aboriginal people who have passed away was traditionally forbidden. Traditionally you are required to avoid referring to the person who has passed on directly by name as a sign of respect. This has also come to include photographs, filming and voice recordings as technology has grown. Central Art acknowledges that we have named Dorothy on our website however it is linguistically difficulty to promote her works without naming her.

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Artist has Passed Away

1956 - 2013

Out of respect for Aboriginal culture Central Art has removed the artist's photograph.

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