KAAPA MBITJANA TJAMPITJINPA
- Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa
GOANNA CORROBOREE AT MIRKANTJI
Inscribed Papunya Aboriginal Artist, Story of a Journey. Other artists represented in 1971 Caltex Art Award, David Datbugari, Robin Guningbal, Don Gundinga' on the reverse
- watercolour on composition board (plywood)
Painted at Papunya in 1971 Caltex Art Award, Alice Springs, 28 August 1971, cat. no.35, entered under the title Wana and Puliaba
Jo Caddy, Judge, Caltex Art Award, 1971
James R. Lawson Auctioneers, Sydney, Aboriginal Art, 13 September 1994, lot 154
Patrick Corbally Stourton and thence by descent
Private collection, acquired from the above
Cf. Two other works by the artist were also entered in the Caltex Art Award in 1971. Of these, the painting Gulgardi, shared first prize. Gulgardi and the other painting, The corroboree at Waru, are both in the collection of the Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs; see Bardon, G. and J. Bardon, Papunya, A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2004, p.135, paintings 53 and 54, illus.
Kaapa Tjampitjinpa was one of the most important and influential of the first group of Papunya Tula painters, due in part to the fact that he had produced some paintings prior to the arrival of Geoffrey Bardon, the catalyst for the painting movement at Papunya (Bardon, G., Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert, McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1991, p.108). Bardon records that Kaapa was most eager to participate in the Papunya painting movement and he became the first chairman of the Papunya Tula Artists Cooperative in 1972. Kaapa's win in the 1971 Caltex Art Award was a watershed in the history of Papunya painting; he was the first Papunya artist to receive public recognition for his work.
The composition features a conventional rendition of a ceremonial ground, constructed of one central set of concentric circles from which a ceremonial pole emerges, joined to four sets of smaller roundels in a symmetrical fashion. Meandering journey lines join three of the sets of circles and wander to the bottom edge of the painting. A hunter's weapons, three spears, a spear-thrower and a shield, are depicted to the left of the ceremonial ground; a goanna is shown under the ceremonial ground and a snake to the right. The designs and figures are set against a white brushy background, with a line of black dots running along the top and right hand sides of the painting which is framed by a black and a red line. The ground immediately behind the ritual pole has been reworked; the reworking is characteristic of several of Kaapa'searly paintings.
Kaapa had special responsibilities for Mirkantji, a rain-making site near Mt Denison on Napperby Station, and the site depicted in this painting. Kaapa was born on Napperby and later on lived at Mirkantji outstation. However, in the absence of the artist's specific interpretation of this work, it is only possible to allude to probable explanations of the image. One possible association of the painting involves the ceremonies about the coming of the fertilising rains of the wet season; after rain, shallow depressions around Napperby form the so-called Napperby Lakes which hold water for lengthy periods. The Lakes attract animals and migratory birds. As such the image may depict a ritual ground celebrating the abundance of freshwater and other natural resources in the area.
On the other hand the painting bears a striking similarity to a work by Kaapa's cousin Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia; Men's camps at Lyrrpurrung Nguttra, 1979 (Caruana, W., Aboriginal Art, World of Art Series, Thames and Hudson, London and New York, 2003, p.125, pl.106). As clansmen, the two artists had similar attachments and responsibilities to their ancestral lands around Napperby Station. Their paintings, therefore, occasionally deal with the same subject and the same country.
A comparison between Tim Leura's painting and Kaapa's Goanna corroboree at Mirkantji is illuminating. Both are more or less symmetrically composed around the central roundel. While Kaapa's image shows four surrounding roundels or camps, Leura's shows six, each surrounded by U-shapes. Significantly, both paintings contain images of the snake and the goanna, as well as the hunter's weapons. Tim Leura's painting has been extensively documented. The work deals with a ceremonial scene where groups of men have gathered from all points of the compass and made their ritual camps to perform a ceremony associated with a great ancestral hunter who is represented by an inverted U-shape and by his weapons and his prey.
There are two further interpretations of this work. The site near Napperby was once renowned for its abundance of natural resources, especially of big game such as kangaroo and emu. However, two events occurred during both artists' youth that led to the degradation of the environment. One was the introduction of cattle with the pastoral industry taking hold in the region. The other was the great drought of the 1930s. The presence of cattle led to the pollution of natural freshwater holes, depriving both the Indigenous people and big game of their precious resources. The intimation in Tim Leura's painting is that the Great Hunter has now been reduced to catching relatively small creatures such as lizards and snakes. Leura's painting can be interpreted as a lament for the loss of a way of life. Without concrete evidence, it is not possible to attribute the same sentiments in Kaapa's work, although it would be within the realms of possibility. The comparison between the two works, however, provides a clue as to the meaning and relevance of the symbols and images in Kaapa's painting.
Goanna corroboree at Mirkantji was created at the time the first of the famous murals - the Honey Ant Dreaming - was painted onto the walls of the Papunya school. This mural signified the very beginning of the Western Desert art movement. Geoffrey Bardon recalls Kaapa as being a 'classically compulsive artist' who was the first to start painting of the mural at the Papunya school (Bardon and Bardon 2004:16,17). Goanna corroboree at Mirkantji displays several features characteristic of Kaapa's early paintings which were to evolve into the highly articulated and complex images of his later years. The sense of balance, although not exactly symmetrical, is evident. The suggestion of three dimensions and the naturalistic depictions of animals, weapons and ritual objects reflect the initial struggle to find an appropriate visual language for a public audience. By way of comparison, Bardon describes The ceremony at Waru, so similar in composition and design to Goanna corroboree at Mirkantji, as "pioneer(ing) for public scrutiny of traditional Aboriginal motifs" (ibid:135)