The renaissance of modern day Aboriginal art started at the Central Desert Community of Papunya 230 kilometers from Alice Springs in 1971 with the arrival of Geoffrey Bardon.
In 1960 Papunya was established under the Federal Government assimilation policy, most of its 600 or so population were Pintupi from the Central Desert but also included a number of groups from Arrernte, Anmatyerie, Luritja and South Warlpiri.
Papunya is situated at a site of the Honey Ant Ancestor (see picture 4) and all of the tribes would have ritual connections with the Honey Ant Dreaming.
It was a harsh time for Aboriginal people , the transition of a semi-nomadic life to that of a sedentary one resulted in the lack of rights for the people and the loss of power in determining their own future and aspirations to the outside world.
Bardon arrived to teach the children of Papunya in 1971, an art teacher he began to encourage the school yardmen and elders to join in painting a traditional mural on the school walls.
Bardon was keen to get the elders involved and to encourage them to paint their stories with their own traditional symbols.
This caused debate at first amongst the older men, as until then such designs had only been painted on to rock walls, objects and on the body for ceremony and in related ground paintings.
Eventually Old Tom Onion Tjapangati, the owner of the Honey ant Dreaming gave permission for Ð’-Billy Stockman, Tjampitjinpa, Old Mick Tjakamarra and other artists to paint the mural.
As other works followed, Bardon provided new materials of synthetic paints and boards.
Kaapa Tjampitinpa (1920-1989) who had made similar works on board before was the main protagonist in the painting movement Ð”The Papunya Tula Artists Co operative’ formed to look after the artists interests.
Originally painters produced a combination of natural depictions and objects such as spears, axes and sacred emblems used in ceremony.
By 1974 these elements became less frequent and the narrative expressed with conventional symbols which allowed artists to describe their work without giving out secret information.
In ritual painting dots are used to outline design elements, and so dots began to feature in acrylic paintings, gradually artists began to extend their use to cover an entire surface.
The dots may have a number of origins, they may be intended to depict a birds’ down or to imitate the making of ground paintings.
They can be used to indicate topography and vegetation, and large area of dots may Ð”mask’ sacred designs. The use of dots to produce a visually stimulating work may be used to evoke supernatural presence on earth.
The Honey Ant Dreaming is one of the major ancestral myths of the Central Desert, and refers both to the ants themselves and the ancestor figures in their image.
The small hills lying alongside the main settlement of Papunya are the petrified bodies of Honey Ant ancestors, and it was the Honey Ant Dreaming that the Papunya elders decided to depict on the first mural of the schools walls.
Stories of the Honey Ants ancestors, whose underground tracks are believed to have caused the soakage’s common in the area, are numerous and varied and are depicted in the art of many painters of the Central Desert.