The Warlpiri Drawings are a powerful collection of 169 Aboriginal crayon drawings that depict the turbulent times the artists experienced between 1953 and 1954. During this time Warlpiri people were relocated from their ancestral lands to a new government settlement at Hooker Creek, now known as Lajamanu, in 1948.
Noted anthropologist Mervyn Meggitt encouraged the men and women of the Warlpiri to create crayon drawings as a method of collecting research material. Meggitt was particularly interested in learning the social organisation of the group, as well as discovering the totemic designs that were linked to Warlpiri Dreaming, used in ceremonial and spiritual ways.
Initially viewed as research materials rather than artwork, these drawings were considered an attempt by the Warlpiri people to make sense of their relocation. They depict a variety of different subjects, from desert landscapes and settlement life to ceremonial and cosmological knowledge. There is a sense of longing in these images, missing the land they had been taken from and establishing connections with the new countryside surrounding them.
The Warlpiri Drawings hold great historical significance, documenting the journey the people made from their ancestral home to their new settlement in Lajamanu. The artwork details the obligations and relationships the artists hold with their traditional lands as they travel across the Tanami Desert, a reminder of their dedication to tribal ancestry and ceremony.
When compared to other artwork by indigenous people, the Warlpiri Drawings are noticeably distinct. Vivid, vibrant colours are used, rather than the more traditional earthy ochres of other Aboriginal Art. These crayon drawings predate the Papunya acrylic paintings by two decades, making them some of the earliest western medium Aboriginal artworks.
The significance of these works came to light again and was reevaluated in 1980 by researcher Stephen Wild, who reviewed them with elder Warlpiri men. It was then established that 50 of the drawings depicted restricted themes only for men, which were instructed to be locked away from public view. As these pieces were considered pure research, it was not initially necessary to restrict or censor their viewing, but once their classification changed to artwork, secret and sensitive Warlpiri designs were removed from the collection.
When compared with art intended for sale, the Warlpiri Drawings display a freer form of expression, an innocence and openness with a desire to inform and relay more intimate knowledge. Today, this collection offers insight into the impact relocation had on Aboriginal people, and how despite the distance between them and their indigenous homes, they maintained a connection with their ancestral land while establishing new ties with settlement life.