Warlukurlangu Artists has a proud history. Its paintings are in collections all over Australia and around the world. Its leading artists have travelled internationally representing Australia. The art centre now provides services to other neighbouring communities including Nyirripi and Yuelumu.
In the early 1970s Paddy Japaljarri Stewart was involved in the painting of the mural on the Papunya School wall. In 1983 he and Paddy Japaljarri Sims were instrumental together with other senior men in the painting of the now famous Yuendumu school doors. They went on with other senior leaders including Darby Jampinjnpa Ross, Jack Jakamarra Ross, Samson Japaljarri Martin and senior women including Uni Nampijinpa Martin, Dolly Nampijinpa Daniels, Rosie Nangala Fleming and Maggie Napangardi Watson to found the Warlukurlangu art centre in 1985. It was incorporated in 1986.
From the outset maintenance of culture was the predominant driving motivation of the leaders of the art centre, most of whom were also leaders of the men’s and women’s ceremonies, at the time when there was still a very active ceremonial life in Yuendumu. Warlukurlangu Artists has been the primary cultural organisation in Yuendumu for 26 years. Other famous artists from Yuendumu include Shorty Jangala Robertson, Judy Napangardi Watson, Bessie Nakamarra Sims, Liddy Napanangka Walker.
From its inception, Warlukurlangu’s art became recognized for its bold use of colour through an unrestricted palette and this was integral to the distinctive style that emerged. Another early distinctive feature was the use of very traditional iconography. The artists painted Jukurrpa (dreaming story), ensuring appropriate Warlpiri relationships of kirda (owners) and kurdugurlu (guardians) were followed and the images reflected the social and cultural obligations present in ceremonies and day-to-day life in the community. The kurawarri, the iconographic elements of a painting that held the story, were painted first and scrutinized by others for their adherence to Jukurrpa. The dotting that filled the canvases was less important, and many artists developed varying styles of application and experimented with different colours while maintaining a consistency in their presentation of kuruwarri.
Nowadays, the paintings tell the story of the artists connection to their country, the features of the landscape, the plants and animals that are found there and the creation myth that occurred in the Dreamtime. These stories are still very relevant to the artists today. Artists have their own particular styles or palettes, and constantly experiment and vary their paintings, so the works are constantly evolving.
Warlukurlangu Artists continues to grow, develop and expand.
The art centre has grown significantly in terms of sales and artist participation and is now one of the three largest Aboriginal-owned art centres in Central Australia. While the kurawarri remains important to many, the economic benefits deriving from the enterprise are critical to many residents of Yuendumu, and to some extent people living in adjacent Warlpiri communities Yuelumu, Willowra and particularly Nyirripi whose artists are represented by Warlukurlangu.
- Warlukurlangu Artists was the 2011 winner of the NT Export Award Art and Entertainment category and therefore automatically an entrant in the national awards.
- In 2010 Warlukurlangu Artists’ Alma Nungarrayi Granites and Wendy Nungarrayi Brown were artists in residence in the Australian Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai.
- Warlukurlangu Artists was successful in receiving Aboriginals Benefit Account funding of $450,000 to support the Nyirripi artists.
- In 2010 – 2011 Warlukurlangu provided over 30 gallery exhibitions, with artists attending a number of interstate exhibitions.
- Exhibitions included ‘sell out’ shows in Perth, Singapore and Germany.
- The Warlukurlangu Manager served on the Board of the new Indigenous Art Code for two years during its complex development and establishment period.
- The Assistant Manager served on the Advisory Committee for the new art centre database SAM, replacing the AMS system.
In October 2005 Warlukurlangu Artists celebrated the opening of its new building and the milestone of 20 years as a successful Aboriginal owned and operated art centre. Coinciding with the completion of the new art centre building, the 2005 Open Day was a fitting celebration of achievements at Yuendumu. The art centre organised a party and locals joined visitors from across Australia and from overseas. Despite heavy rain the week before and a torrential downpour on the morning, several hundred visitors travelled the officially-closed Tanami Road to attend. It was a happy and successful weekend with traditional dancing, a barbeque, film night, and battle of the bands, and children danced into the small hours of the morning.