Pukatja (Ernabella) SA

“So here we are in the camp making the birds, and really, as we work and as the works progress, and as they get bigger and more beautiful, we really think about the meaning of birds, and thinking about that painting, and thinking about caring and looking after each other, and watching out for each other, and what the land provides, and thinking about the strength of our culture. So it is a lovely time to be there together, working.”

Since 2015, Tjunkaya has chosen to focus on tainting and Tjanpi, becoming one of the most in demand female artists on the APY lands, and increasingly recognised in these two mediums. In 2010 and 2011 she was collected by Artbank, and in 2011 and 2012 she was selected as a finalist in the Togart Contemporary Art Award. In 2012 her Tjulpu bird Tjanpi sculptures were finalists in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. 2011 marked the commencement of Tjunkaya’s fifth decade working at Ernabella Arts. Her first solo show was in 2012 at Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne, where Tjunkaya exhibited a mix of paintings and Tjanpi sculptures. A second solo show in 2014 at Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney showcased her Tjanpi artworks.

Tjunkaya's Tjanpi work is consistently innovative and skillfully executed. She clearly has great knowledge of the habits and nuances of desert animals as her sculptural work shows an exceptional eye for character and is created with great strength.

Tjunkaya grew up at the Ernabella Mission, where she went to school and later worked and taught her peers various domestic skills including sewing and cooking. Tjunkaya worked in the mission’s craft room as a young woman, becoming an outstanding batik artist with her work being sought by public collections, and featured on the cover of Judith Ryan’s Across the Desert: Aboriginal Batik from Central Australia.

From this beginning Tjunkaya developed extraordinary skill as an artist, creating works in painting, ceramics, Tjanpi, punu, printmaking, spinning and mukata. Her work in these mediums has been seen in numerous exhibitions in Australia and internationally since 1971, in both public and private galleries.

A board member of Ernabella Arts, a powerful speaker and member of the NPY Women’s Council, she is a leader of the Nintintjaku Project, and inter-generational teaching project working with Ernabella Anangu School and NPY Women’s council Youth team.

Tjunkaya has three children and many grandchildren.