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 Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi  (c.1947 - )

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Lived/Active: Australia      Known for: Aborigional painting reflecting culture; teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Parwalla, 2003
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Born: c. 1947
Location: Parwalla
Skin: Nungurrayi
Language: Pintupi
Themes: Purra (bush tomato), rock holes, coolamons and digging sticks, Kantilli (bush raisin), Minyali (seed), story of grandmother who killed and ate a snake with her three children, Tingari

Nyumi currently lives at Kururrungku (Billiluna), an outlying community from Balgo. Her mother belonged to the country of Nynmi (Jupiter Well) near Kiwirrkurra on the Pintupi side. Tragically her mother died quite young from a dingo bite at the Kanari soak water close to Jupiter Well. Her father was from Alyarra in the region of Natajarra.

Nyumi was living a nomadic existence with her family group on the Canning Stock Route before walking into Old Balgo Mission with her father after her mother had died. Here she was given clothes and taken to Billiluna and trained as a house worker, cleaning the floors with rags, washing dishes and raking the grounds.

She subsequently traveled to many station houses around the region working for the wives of the station owners. Nyumi married a man called Palmer Gordon who is now a senior law man of the Billiluna community.

Both Nyumi and Gordon Palmer teach culture to the children at the school ensuring the traditional dances and songs are kept alive. Nyumi advises the nursing staff at the health clinic about traditional bush medicines, and she is also knowledgeable about carving coolamons and digging sticks.

Nyumi began painting in 1987 and emerged as a leading artist in the late 1990s. Her paintings are mainly concerned with her country and the abundant bush food belonging to her family. In her maturity as a painter she initially worked with a thick brush, covering the canvas in emanating lines in muted tones. Her style has now developed to using a multitude of dotting to build up fields of texture but she retains her signature motifs of small camps, coolamons and bush tucker trees and scrubs. She is an active member in the community, being a strong law and culture woman.

In 2004, Elizabeth Nyumi was selected for the Biennale of Sydney.

Her work is held in the following Collections: the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Artbank, Sydney; the Laverty Collection, Sydney and the Holmes à Court Collection, Perth.

"Elizabeth Nyumi-Artist from Balgo", Aboriginal Art Online,

Biography from Deutscher and Hackett Melbourne:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Elizabeth Nyumi was a young girl travelling with her older brothers, Brandy and Patrick Tjungurrayi, when they encountered a helicopter at Natawalu in 1957. It was the first time Nyumi had seen white men. She eventually travelled north to Balgo mission where she lived for many years before moving to Billiluna with her husband, senior law-man and painter Palmer Gordon, and children. Born near Jupiter Well on the Canning Stock Route in her mother's country (Nyumi) close to Kiwirrkurra in Western Australia, Nyumi is a strong culture woman, dancer and advocate of the importance of traditional culture. She is an enthusiastic teacher of culture to children, ensuring the traditional dances and songs are kept alive, also advising nurses at health clinics about traditional bush medicines. In 1987, Nyumi started painting for Warlayirti Artists, the community run art centre at Balgo Hills and is considered to be a founding figure in the Wirrimanu women's painting movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Nyumi held her first solo exhibition Parwalla at Raft Artspace in 2001. In this work Nyumi addresses Parwalla, the country of her childhood. Contrasting with the conventional Balgo Hills palette of blistering reds and pinks, Nyumi's creamy pastels interspersed with jewel-like forms speak of an individual aesthetic and sensual engagement with place. Parwalla depicts the abundance of Nyumi's country, the painting dense with luminous symbols representing bush foods such as Kantjilyi (bush raisin), pura (bush tomato), and minyili (seed). Women are shown as U shapes, with their wana (digging sticks) and coolamons. The many dominating white layers are referred to as kinti-kinti (close-close) which creates a rich texture that references the seeds of spinifex which grow abundantly after the rains. These seeds are white in colour and grow so thickly they obscure the ground and other plants Selected works by Nyumi were included in On Reason and Emotion, the 2004 Biennale of Sydney. Within the catalogue which accompanied the Biennale, Hetti Perkins described Nyumi's paintings as expressing 'more than a nostalgic yearning for the past. The arrangement of formal elements in her works articulates the physical connection of desert dwellers to their country. The act of painting Tjukurrpa as an expression of knowledge and creativity reveals a blueprint for physical survival and at the same time regenerates the transcendent energy of the Tjukurrpa. Thus, Nyumi's paintings afford an unequivocal understanding of the symbiotic relationship of Aboriginal people and country.'1 1. Perkins, H., 'Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi', in Carlos, I., (ed.), Biennale of Sydney 2004: On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney, 2004, p. 162

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