Alison Anderson Nampitjinpa

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Alison Nampitjinpa Anderson Profile Image

BORN 1958

REGION Haasts Bluff

LANGUAGE Anmatyerre 

Alison Nampitjinpa Anderson is an Australian politician and artist. She has been a member of the Northern territory legislative assembly since 2005, representing the electorate of MacDonnell, and is a prominent indigenous activist and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Central Zone Commissioner. She was one of the party’s star candidates at the 2005 election.

Anderson was re-elected unopposed as the Member for MacDonnell in the August 2008 Territory election and with the subsequent return of the Henderson Labor Government was appointed to Cabinet. She has previously held the position of Minister for Natural Resources, Environment and Heritage; Minister for Parks and Wildlife; Minister for Arts and Museums; and Minister for Indigenous Policy.

Anderson speaks six indigenous languages, Anmatyerre, Luritja, Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri, Western Arrernte and Yankunytjatjara. She is also an accomplished artist.


2011 Trevor Victor Harvey Gallery, Seaforth, NSW
2009 ACGA Gallery Federation Square, Melbourne, Secret Symmetries
2009 Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin, Group Show, Rising Stars Modern Classics

Alison Nampitjinpa Anderson was born at Haasts Bluff, in the Ulumbarru.  Ranges to the west of Alice Springs, and has lived for many years at Papunya.  Her family are custodians of fire and water Tjukurrpa sites in the Papunya region: Mikantji is among the most important of these. She is strongly committed to her law and culture, and regards the traditional beliefs of her people as her guide, in painting and in life. Her appreciation of the place of art in desert society began when she was still a child, and would watch the old masters of Papunya at work during the first days of the painting movement: men such as Old Mick Wallankarri, Paddy Carroll and Long Jack Philippus instructed her and were constant presences in her life.

After periods of painting for Papunya Tula Artists, Warumpi Arts and the Aboriginal-owned Ngurra Tjuta Iltja Njarra art centre in Alice Springs, she has recently entered a new creative phase. Her latest works treat classical desert themes and Tjukurrpa story cycles, relying on traditional symbolic language, expressed in an intense, personal style. The basis of all her work is her deep familiarity with the desert landscape stretching north and west of her Papunya home: this tract of country, and the narratives and religious practices associated with it, underpins every painting she makes.


The heart of tradition is to make it new: to keep belief alive, to find new strength and feeling in old forms. This is the alchemy of all great art made in the flow of western history, from the time of the first carved stone images down to the present day: old patterns reinvigorated; fresh life breathed into familiar forms.  So it is, too, with the art of the western desert. Traditions are no more than a template – the ground upon which individual painters can build their art.

When painting began in earnest in the Centre, during the early 1970s, at first in the large community of Papunya, the artists gathered there were engaged in a process of transformation and adaptation: they were adapting the patterns of ritual and ceremony, and presenting them to outside eyes. Alison Anderson was a young girl at Papunya in those days: she watched her uncles painting, bent over their boards of masonite, eyes keen, brows lined – Old Mick Walangkari, Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi, Johnny Warrangkula Tjupurrula, the masters of that time and place.

Their example lived within her during the first years of her adulthood: years lived on the membrane between two very different worlds – the traditional world of desert beliefs and remote community existence, and the world of modern Australia, with its wide horizons and continuous demands.

Painting gradually became a form of self-preservation for her: a refuge, a haven where she could refine herself. She painted for Papunya Tula Artists in its earlier years, and for the Ngurratjuta Art Centre in Alice Springs – and throughout this time her art was distinguished both by a strict fidelity to traditional image-systems and by a constant, questing search for new expressive techniques. That search for new forms to catch the old tradition has always stood at the core of her work: it does so to this day. This is an art of urgency: it blazes, but its flames are in the mind, as much as in the burning deserts of the west. Not only is the artist reaching back, and seeking the heart of her tradition: she is pushing forward, and creating it anew.

Many mainstream Australian art lovers and convinced admirers of the desert renaissance regard indigenous art as a kind of fixed canon: a realm of rigid, eternal forms. And so it may be – but the interpretation of those forms, the means of apprehending them – that is the open field.

Here is an artist formed by the western desert, an artist who sees the purple ranges and the sand-hills and the blue eggshell colour of the sky: and sees in them the creation cycles that show their traces all across the landscape. An artist of the past, and of the future. Tradition is being reinvented here; the calm hat lurks inside these paintings is the calm when an act of creation is done; when the flame has left its mark upon the mind. Vast story cycles stand present in these works; songs echo in them, they conjure up dances: but they are also the fruit of a single artist, painting alone. Fire and water; line and circle; dark and light. There is a world that lies beyond the surface structure of the desert: it is a world of archetypes, each with its own specific energy. For travelers in the dunes and ranges of the West, that world often seems to hover just out of reach. In these pieces, it comes closer. They repay prolonged attention: they hold out the promise of understanding and release.

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