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Painting by Balgo artist Millie Skeen Nampitjin


Millie Skeen Nampitjin (1932-1997)

Nakarra Nakarra south of Balgo, 1991

​100 x 50 cm. Acrylic on linen canvas


    Millie Skeen Nampitjin was born near Kiwirrkura, nearly five hundred kilometres south of Balgo. She travelled to the Balgo area as a young girl and later married Tommy Skeen Tjakamarra.


    Millie began painting in 1986, and was one of the first women to paint at Balgo, becoming one of the leaders of the art movement established there. Her work covers subjects such as the emu Dreaming, the making of tjimari (stone knives), the Tjipari womens’ song cycle, and sites related to the Nakarra Nakarra song cycle in the Balgo area.


    Millie’s early works make use of darker natural palettes which reflected the Balgo paintings created between 1985 and 1989. She then went on to adopt and use brighter colours. Millie's work was included in Balgo’s first commercial exhibitions, and she was one of the artists featured in Balgo’s first exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1989. Her work is held in several important collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Kluge-Ruhr Collection at the University of Virginia.


    Nakarra Nakarra south of Balgo was also featured in Christine Watson’s 2003 book, 'Piercing the Ground: Balgo women's image making and relationship to country'.

  • ART

    Nakarra Nakarra south of Balgo shows the Nakarra Nakarra women who metamorphosed, in moiety groups into the two groups of hills at the site. 


    Balgo, located on the western edge of the Tanami Desert in the far north of Western Australia was established as a Catholic Mission in 1939. The settlement brought together diverse tribal groups from the western edge of the desert, a mix of different languages, traditions and ceremonial practices. These groups included Kukatja, Walmajarri, Warlpiri, Pintupi, Ngardi and Tjaru people. The community returned to Aboriginal control in the 1980s, although it has maintained strong co-operative relationships with the Catholic Church.


    Family links with Papunya Tula artists may have been influential in bringing the growing contemporary Aboriginal art movement to Balgo. Residents at Balgo were aware of the painting movement as it developed at Papunya from 1971. But they also held deep concerns for the cultural values of secret ceremonial designs, which could possibly be used for paintings shown to the wider world. The relative proximity of Balgo to communities at Kintore and Kiwirrkura, and the familiarity with the Pintupi language in the region, served to reinforce the connection between Balgo and newly emerging desert painting movement.


    When a programme for literacy and arts and crafts was established at the Adult Education centre in 1981, Aboriginal people at Balgo had their first access to art supplies. The Balgo art movement gained momentum when local men painted large cloth banners for decorative use in the church. The calico banners were painted with poster paint using traditional blacks and browns. Between 1982 and 1984 Aboriginal women also began to participate in painting classes, and in 1986 The Art Gallery of Western Australia displayed the inaugural Balgo exhibition Art from the Great Sandy Desert. By 1987 the Warlayirti Artist Co-Operative had been formed at Balgo.


    • Warlayirti Artists, WA Cat No. 606/91 Private Collection, UK
    • Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Warlayirti Artists
    • Featured in 'Piercing the Ground: Balgo women's image making and relationship to country', by Christine Watson (2003, Freemantle Arts Centre Press)
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