Prior to the 1970s, most indigenous art was collected by anthropologists, and in fact much art was not committed to canvas, but drawn in the sand and painted on the body.
Papunya Tula was the first arts centre where a group of senior elder men began paining on transportable boards, later moving on to canvas. In the 1960s, five desert tribes were brought together at the government settlement of Papunya, west of Alice Springs. They were the Pintupi, Loritja, Warlpiri, Aranda and Anmatjira. There was much rivalry but the common thread of painting helped bring the tribes together. Encouraged by a schoolteacher, Geoff Barton, who recognised the cultural value and importance of the sand paintings, the senior men made their work permanent. This became known as the ‘dot and circle’ style.
The works were taken to Alice Springs where demand for them grew. After the mid 1980’s many tribal groups returned to their homelands near Kintore and further west, so Papunya diminished as an active painting site. Many former Papunya artists take their place beside others from Balgo Hills, Turkey Creek, Yuendumu, Utopia and Lajamanu to form the first truly indigenous art movement in Australia since settlement. Papunya Tula Artists are the founders of the Central and Western Desert Art Movement, and credited as bringing Aboriginal art to world attention.