Odyssey in the desert

Odyssey in the desert

Behind the Doors: An Art History from Yuendumu

by Philip Jones with Warlukurlangu Artists

Wakefield Press and the South Australian Museum, $44.95 pb, 212 pp, 9781743052945

The painting of the Yuendumu doors in 1984 by Warlpiri artists, whose country is north-west of Alice Springs, represented an extraordinary moment in Australian art and modern art generally. In the 1980s some Aboriginal elders painted the doors in the Yuendumu School building to prompt students to show respect for their school and as a marker of their culture. It was the first time that they had painted using acrylics (not ochres), in colours never before used, to record the major stories of their community.

The paintings represented the birth of a new form of expression of the art of this central desert community. It had nothing to do with reference to any external artistic tradition or practice. The artists were working entirely from their own imaginations, depicting stories of the land of epic proportions, although the stories remained largely unknown to the uninitiated. It was a project akin to the famous moment of instigation of the Western Desert art movement at Papunya in 1971, when artists painted the walls of the school at that community under the auspices of the school teacher Geoffrey Bardon.

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Published in August 2014, no. 363
Colin Golvan

Colin Golvan

Colin Golvan is a Queen's Counsel at the Victorian Bar, and author of plays staged by the Melbourne Theatre Company and Playbox Theatre.