Tjilpi Kunmanara Kankapankatja

<strong>Tjilpi Kunmanara Kankapankatja</strong><br/> b.c.1930-2012, Walalkara, Great Victoria Desert Anangu-Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands<br/><br/><i>Untitled Nyangatja ngayuku ara irititja</i> 2012<br/>Graphite, ink & gouache on Arches paper<br/>65 x 45cm [paper size]<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection - CDU2334<br/>Acquired by purchase through the CDU Foundation, 2012<br/>Image © the artist & courtesy Kaltjiti Arts, Fregon ,<br/> Senior artist and esteemed Yankunytjatjara-Pitjantjatjara “law and culture man” Tjilpi Kunmanara Kankapankatja was born at Walalkara, 350 kilometres east of Uluru and 500 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs in the remote north west of South Australia. He encountered his first “whitefella” as a young teenage boy near Shirley Well, north of Fregon. He grew up around Welbourn Hill and Everard Park Stations, “learning from his father” and working with cattle. Later in life, he recalled meeting the “Hallelujah men” – missionaries on camels – who passed through the area travelling to nearby Pukatja (Ernabella).

As a young man, Kankapankatja worked as a fencer in his homeland, building barriers to prevent environmental destruction by camels. In caring for country, he was an active agent in the preservation and management of sacred sites, as well as precious natural resources such as soakages and waterholes.

With his artist-wife Tjayangka (Antjala), Kankapankatja was a committed land manager as well as traditional owner of the Walalkara Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), covering 700,000 hectares of the Great Victoria Desert. His knowledge and experience served as a benchmark for policy and practice in engagement with and maintenance of the region. Today, his children have assumed responsibility for management of the protected reserve.

With an intimate and instinctual knowledge of the flora and fauna of his country, Kankapankatja was renowned as an accomplished tracker and recognised as an ethno-botanist in his field. His astute observation skills would come to the fore in his practice as an artist, revealing details not seen before of “trees, animal tracks, landmark creeks and rock holes” in his homeland.

Kankapankatja began working as an artist in his senior years with Kaltjiti Arts, commencing in 2004. He was known as an expert carver of boomerangs, spears, spear throwers and shields, as well as a painter. In the last two years, he received national and international recognition for his art. His paintings are represented in Australian public collections including Artbank, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Araluen Galleries and Flinders University Art Museum.

This work was one of four selected from the artist’s first exhibition of drawings and paintings on paper, held in Darwin in 2012 and entitled Nyangatja ngayuku ara irititja: this is my life from long ago. The drawings were conceived and executed “by happenchance”, following a conversation between the artist and the then recently appointed studio manager of Kaltjiti art centre, Peter Volich. To better articulate and share his memories with Volich, Kankapankatja began to draw on available paper – and never ceased drawing, until his untimely death.

Kankapankatja experimented with and combined different media such oils, charcoals, crayons and graphite in his art, relishing in their aesthetic possibilities and effects. Drawing, perhaps more than painting, became a prime means to relate his life stories and memories, surmounting language barriers and cultural differences.

This spritely figurative composition, in which memories of people and places are mapped across the surface of the paper in the manner of rock art, depicts individuals or groups travelling across the landscape with weapons and dogs. It may refer to a hunting scene or encounters between Desert people in distant times. Although their faces are featureless, each figure is animated by a range of pronounced or quirky gestures and poses, indicative of movement and communication. The stippled, expressively rendered red pastel infill creates a kinetic charge, contained and intensified within a ridged, uneven, tablet-like border of grey and soft green pastel.

Kankapankatja’s works on paper are reminiscent of the first crayon drawings collected by Norman Tindale and Charles Mountford in the region during the 1930s, the period of first sustained contact between Anangu people and white society. His compositions echo the reiterative nature of Aboriginal song, where repetition – verse by verse – may “sing” figures from the past – side by side – into new life or concerted action.

Tjilpi Kunmanara Kankapankatja passed away on 31 December 2012. Kaltjiti art centre managers noted that his “strong and enthusiastic spirit touched all who met him”, and that he would be sadly missed by the community, his extended family and many friends throughout the APY Lands.


Eileen Lim
Exhibitions and Collections Officer, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
4 April 2013

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