Vivien Johnson: Papunya’s Daughters

Vivien Johnson: Papunya's Daughters

Papunya, 240 kilometres from Alice Springs, is the closest town to Australia’s continental pole of inaccessibility – the furthest point from any coastline. It’s in the very centre of the continent and it’s central to the history of contemporary Aboriginal art.

That history, however, is complicated. Papunya was the home of the Western Desert art movement in the 1970s, which brought the Aboriginal art of central Australia to the attention of the world. Exploitative commercial gallery owners and dealers cast a dark shadow on the town following the glory years, but the Papunya painting movement is now experiencing a renaissance, led by some particularly talented women artists. Some of these are among the first women in the desert to join the original Papunya art movement.

Vivien Johnson is a curator and researcher who has written extensively about the art of Papunya. Here, she discusses the town’s rich history, from its emergence as a site of art production to the achievements of its rising artistic stars today.


Portrait of Vivien Johnson

Vivien Johnson

Sydney writer, researcher, curator and teacher Vivien Johnson’s pioneering books on Western Desert artists and her work on Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights have had considerable social impact. She curated the 2003-5 Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri national touring retrospective and the National Museum of Australia’s Papunya Painting: out of the desert (2007-8) which toured to Sydney and Beijing. JohnsonLives of the Papunya Tula Artists won the 2009 Chief Minister’s Northern Territory History Book Award. Once Upon a Time in Papunya (2010) and her most recent book Streets of Papunya: The reinvention of Papunya painting (2015) are published by NewSouth.