Spinifex Country: Paintings from the Spinifex Arts Project | Melbourne

18 August 2023 – 28 September 2023

About Exhibition

Spinifex Country presents a stunning group of paintings from one of the most distinctive and captivating of Australia’s First Nations art movements, gathered from a single, private collection.

Spinifex Country belongs to the Pila Nguru, or Spinifex people of Western Australia, whose lands extend to the border of South Australia and the north of the Nullabor Plain. The community of Tjuntjuntjarra, home to the Spinifex Arts Project, is the most remote in the country, located some 700km (430 miles) east of Kalgoorlie.

Revered artist Lawrence Pennington holds a passionate focus in this collection, and his exquisite ephemeral works lead the exhibition. The matriarchs of the Spinifex Arts Project – Estelle Hogan, Tjaruwa Woods and Carlene West – show the vibrant energy of the women and their outstanding contribution to the movement. Senior holders of Tjukurpa and Law, Simon Hogan, Roy Underwood, and Ned and Fred Grant, are also represented, with several significant paintings that showcase their signature styles, these styles being united as one in the powerful collaborative work Pukara 2014.



Sitting in Country and working together on large-scale paintings is the foundation of the Spinifex people’s sovereignty and work. Estelle Hogan and Carlene West were involved in the 1998 collaborations that were painted in a spirit of friendship in anticipation of the Spinifex people’s historical Native Title recognition and were gifted to the State of Western Australia.

Spinifex women are known for their collective exuberance when working together to demonstrate their exhaustive cultural knowledge. Estelle Hogan was known as a ‘minyma pulka mulapa’, a truly important woman, and was born at Paltatatjara, an important place in the Myinma Tjuta Tjukurpa – Seven Sisters Story. Estelle has deep, extensive knowledge of her Country and its connections with the Seven Sisters Story, the most prevalent theme of women’s collaborative canvases.

However, as Estelle exhibits in her paintings, each artist’s individual and unique representation of their traditional lands are as significant to the development of the contemporary movement of the region as their collaborations.

There is a dynamic energy that is produced when the women work together. However, the early painting style of Tjaruwa Woods was so energetic that it threatened to overpower the other artists.

Tjaruwa was part of a small family group who had remained living in the desert twenty years after the desert was cleared for atomic testing at Maralinga. Less accustomed to the rules of community life than other family members when she first started collaborating with the other women, she was criticised for her style, which did not conform to the Spinifex aesthetic. The enthusiasm of her mark-making threatened to absorb the iconographic forms of the ancestral narrative and blur any recognisable features depicting the landscape. The force of Tjaruwa’s painting style edged away from the ancestral tracks, animals and footprints maintained as the signature of the localised Spinifex aesthetic, which isolated her from the other artists. However, her abstract style paved the way for a celebrated independent career that would significantly contribute to the development of the Spinifex artists.

Carlene West also broke away from the formal conventions of desert painting, but only once was she able to return to her birthplace of Tjitjiti after fifty years of absence. She left her Country as a girl when she and her family were taken off their lands and brought to the mission of Cundeelee in 1959. Later, with her husband Fred Grant, Carlene was influential in the movement for their people to return to their Country and reclaim their Native Title from the state. Her paintings of Tjitjiti before and after her eventual return in 2010 are vastly different. Once she was finally able to re-engage with the Country, the sandhills and lake of the ancestral narrative began to emerge in her singular style, rich with the intimacy and feeling of this place.


Read more about the Spinifex Arts Projects, the artists and their work by downloading the PDF catalogue, above.

Spinifex Country. Image courtesy of Spinifex Arts Project.

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