Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu | Past & Present Together: 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists

  September 25 - December 22, 2023

  On view at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC


Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together) celebrates the 50th anniversary of Papunya Tula Artists, from the very first experiments of painting on scraps of board through to the epic, abstract paintings that travel the world today. It tells a story of constant artistic rejuvenation. Inspired by the sweeping ancestral landscape of the Australian desert, it is one of the world’s greatest stories of resilience, self-determination and the power of art.

The Embassy of Australia gallery is open to the public from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, however, visitors are encouraged to call ahead as private functions could prevent access. Groups of more than four are asked to contact cultural.relationsus@dfat.gov.au to schedule an appointment.

A government issued ID is required for entry.

Exhibition Catalog

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog edited by Fred Myers and Henry Skerritt. It includes essays by numerous Indigenous artists and curators, as well as actor/comedian Steve Martin. Click here to purchase.

Online Exhibition

Click here to experience this exhibition from anywhere in the world. This virtual gallery features all of the paintings from both parts of the exhibition, answers common questions about artwork from Papunya Tula Artists, and provides lesson plans for teachers.


These old men has a picture in their mind from country and ceremony, and they were starting to think about how they were going to do that new form of painting. From there it blew up like a balloon. They started small, and from small they blew up, from Australia, to the United States, overseas, like a balloon.



The township of Papunya was founded in 1959 as a settlement for Aboriginal people who were relocated from their homelands. Papunya drew together Aboriginal people from a disparate range of language groups: Luritja, Pintupi, Anmatyerr, Warlpiri, and Kukatja. Some had considerable experience with white Australians. For others, life in Papunya represented their first encounter with colonizers. Inside this bubbling, cross-cultural cauldron, a small group of men began to paint their ancestral designs onto scraps of cardboard, linoleum and masonite.

Painting offered a way of claiming authority: of explaining who you were and where you came from in this chaotic mélange of strangers. Using ancient iconographies rarely seen by outsiders, an artistic renaissance sprung forth as artists defiantly asserted themselves against the uncertainty of colonial displacement.

Artists at Papunya expressed the conditions of their cultural and geographic displacement that have come to define the contemporary experience of Indigenous people and refugees worldwide. Painting began as a vehicle for the survival and transmission of cultural knowledge, but quickly grew into a powerful medium for economic and social justice. In 1972 the artists banded together to form the Papunya Tula Artists company, which still operates today under the guidance of its Aboriginal board of directors. The international success of Papunya Tula Artists inspired the creation of similar cooperatives across Australia, creating a multi-million-dollar industry and helping artists return to their ancestral homelands. Over the last fifty years Papunya Tula has redefined Aboriginal Australian art, sparking one of the most important contemporary art movements of our time.





The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog edited by Fred Myers and Henry Skerritt. It includes essays and contributions by John Kean, Steve Martin, Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra, Narlie Nelson Nakamarra, Eileen Napaltjarri, Charlotte Phillipis Napurrula, Punata Stockman Nungurrayi, Rachel Paltridge, Hetti Perkins, Cara Pinchbeck, Margo Smith, Marina Strocchi, Paul Sweeney, Morris Jackson Tjampitjinpa, Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri, Bobby West Tjupurrula, and Jodie Napurrula Ward. Click here to purchase.


Irrititja Kuwarri Tjungu (Past & Present Together) is presented in partnership with Papunya Tula Artists. It is sponsored by the Robert and Molly Hardie and the H7 Foundation, The Gordon Darling Foundation, Australian Cultural Fund, Stephen and Agatha Luczo, the Embassy of Australia, the UVA Parents Fund, the UVA Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures, the UVA Mapping Indigenous Worlds Lab, and the UVA Department of Art.