1922 - 1999
Inyuwa Nampitjinpa was born near Punkilpirri, a large permanent water site deep in Pintupi country west of the Kintore ranges. With her family, she arrived in Haasts Bluff in 1956, seeking food and water, and was later moved to the new government settlement at Papunya. Following the death of her first husband, she married Tutuma Tjapangati, one of the senior members of Geoff Bardon’s original painting group, in 1971. It was not until almost a decade after his death that she began painting herself, encouraged in part by the women’s painting project of the new Haasts Bluff and Kintore communities in 1994. By then a senior law woman, Inyuwa took on an instructive role in the representation of women’s ceremonial subject matter, much as the elder men had during the early days of Papunya. After an eye operation to remove cataracts in 1997, she began a prolific burst of painting and although she died only two years later, she had produced a steady stream of culturally important and aesthetically innovative works between 1997 and 1999, which proved to be formative in establishing the ‘meteoric rise’ of the Desert women artists post 2000. Inyuwa’s artistic output focused on the sacred water holes of her traditional country and creation stories relating the travels of groups of women who gathered for ceremony and sustenance at these sites. They included the old woman Kutungka Napanangka, who traveled from Papunga and passed through a number of important sites along the way to the large permanent water site of Muruntji, south-west of the current community of Mount Liebig. Other stories pertain to the travels of large groups of women who gathered the edible berries and seeds growing in the area through which they passed. In the majority of her works, paint is applied in a thick impasto background upon which roundels or U shapes, of graduating density, are embedded. The generous viscosity of the painting surface is said to mimic the manner in which body paint is applied during women’s ceremonies. References to the rock holes, food collected, and tools used are depicted; such as the edible seeds that were roasted and ground into a paste, then cooked in the coals like damper bread and the oblong shaped nulla nullas which each woman carried. In her loose and energetic compositions, Inyuwa abstracts the basic symbolic elements of her cultural iconography, leaving her free to experiment with simple colour and uncomplicated forms in the evocation of a tactile, experiential event. Like others among this group of senior women painters, Inyuwa’s paintings were startlingly different from the increasingly formal, line and circle compositions of her male peers of that time (late 1990’s). The exuberance and freedom expressed in the women’s work defied the public's expectations of desert painting, opening up the possibilities of its artistic horizons in many ways. Inyuwa painted for Papunya Tula Artists for just five years prior to her death, playing a vital role in the emergence of contemporary women's art amongst the Pintupi. From the late 1990’s onward, women became an increasingly significant presence in the art movement, outnumbering male artists in some communities and injecting new energy into the fickle art market. Alongside the excitement generated by the work itself, the advanced age of many of the female painters and often the consequent brevity of their painting careers highlighted the power of the ancient practices and beliefs that form the bedrock of their indefatigable creativity. Inyuwa was a ceremonial and community leader in Kintore, where she was also the gentle and unassuming matriarch of a large extended family. She guided her daughter Walangkura and adopted daughter Pirrmangka Napanangka in their own artistic careers and painted until her death from ill health in June 1999, at which time her first solo show was on the walls of the Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery in Melbourne, a legacy left, as she wished, to inspire and inform future generations.
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