Shirley Napanangka Martin was born in 1969 in Yuendumu, a remote Aboriginal community 290 km north-west of Alice Springs in the NT of Australia. She was born into a large extensive family although she lost both her parents early in life and she in an only child. Her Aunty Pamela Napurrurla Walker has been like a mother to her. Shirley’s grandfather is Towser Jakamarra Walker (Dec) who was not only one of the senior men in the Warlpiri community at Yuendumu but also a well-known artist who painted for Warlukurlangu Artists. She went the local school before going to Yirara, an aboriginal college in Alice Springs. She furthered her studies at Darwin Batchelor Institute where she was enrolled in Teacher training. In 1986, Shirley returned to Yuendumu where she has been working ever since at the Yuendumu School teaching young children. She is widowed, and has two sons.
Shirley began painting with the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation, an Aboriginal owned and governed art centre located in Yuendumu, in 2006. “I like to paint about my country . . . my mother’s country, to take over the knowledge, the stories, to pass down to the next generation.” She paints her mother’s Puturlu Jukurrpa (Mt Theo Drawing), Kanta Jukurrpa (Bush Coconut Dreaming), Wanakiji Jukurrpa (Wild Plum Dreaming), and Karnta Jukurrpa (Women’s Dreaming), “dreamings” that relate directly to her land, its features and the plants and animals that inhabit it. These stories were passed down to her by her mother and her mother’s mother before her for millennia. She loves colour and uses an unrestricted palette to depict her traditional iconography.