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Past Exhibition

Desert Dots Exhibition


Desert Dots is an exhibition of unique composition. Featuring iconic and timeless dot paintings it draws attention to the authority dots are in Utopia Aboriginal art despite the movement being known for less traditional elements.

Utopia art has always been known to break the rules. Even way back in it's early days, it was the women who predominately took brush to canvas.
Women's body paint designs feature heavily in their work, showing a bold, uninhibited and almost contemporary style. Aesthetics have always been important to enhance the story telling in their work where bold colours are used along with original illustrations rather than completely traditional symbols. Utopia artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye was the first Aboriginal artist to have a piece sold at auction for over A$1 million, eclipsing records of all earlier artists from Papunya Tula. And, more than a dozen female artists have become leaders in their fields, paving the way for other female indigenous artists within Australia. The enviable list continues.

Perhaps most significant of all is that there is no art centre at Utopia, no single body that has shaped these artists. They don't operate on consignment basis, nor could they. After three decades of creating and selling artwork on their own terms, for whoever they choose, artists of the Utopia Art Movement thrive on adaptability and diversity.

Among the threads of this diversity, dot work remains a formidable attribute found in Utopia art even though it is not often the feature it has been.

We catch rare glimpses of those 90's style dot paintings, sometimes by those same female leaders who painstakingly dotted the canvas in the sweltering heat, now well into their sixties and seventies. Or by younger artists who remember watching them paint, being taught and listening to them sing while they did so.

We see them but they aren't as prevalent. Desert Dots is curated to highlight some of these iconic pieces, and new gems, represented by twelve very different artists from Utopia.


Utopia is a region covering over 1000 square kilometres of land in Central Australia. It has several main outstations and is home to around 1000 people. At least one quarter of the population are professional artists; young and old, male and female. There are two main language groups, Alyawarr and Anmatyerre, and the people belong to half a dozen countries that border each other. 

What this means is that there a large number of subjects or Dreaming stories being painted by many different Utopia artists, each of whom are influenced by factors from their own communities. Utopia art is immense and vast in style.


Dot work is most commonly found framing symbols and designs in Utopia artwork, or filling in backgrounds through a superimposed technique reflecting elements of the Dreamtime or country, for example seeds or sand.

There are two prominent Dreaming stories that are often represented entirely with dots no matter the artist; Anwekety (Conkerberry) belonging to Ahalpere country and Alpar(Rat-tail plant) belonging to Ilkawerne country.

In Arnkawenyerr and Ngkwarlerlanem countries, the Alhepalh and Ilyarnayt Dreamings (both types of Acacia's) often have their edible seeds represented by dots in the background.

Mountain Devil Lizard by Nancy Kunoth Petyarre

Nancy Kunoth Petyarre dot painting

Perhaps the most timeless piece in the exhibition is 'Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming' by Nancy Kunoth Petyarre who passed away in 2009. Sister to Gloria Petyarre who won the Wynne Prize in 1999, Nancy painted the skin on the back of this gentle thorny little lizard. Each of her six sisters painted the same story in very different styles. Nancy's portrayal was almost exclusively through dots, using traditional colours to tell how the lizard changed it's colour to camouflage during different times of the day and night. The Dreamtime also tells that in its neck in holds a sac of ochre which Nancy and her people would use to paint themselves for ceremony.

This style is iconic and known only to be painted by Nancy Kunoth Petyarre. The first piece I ever owned was a small painting by Nancy just like this. I used to watch her paint, and remember a time when she was sitting over a large canvas spread out beneath a humpy at Mosquito Bore. It was midday and 40 degrees. She was singing. That's when I decided to make her painting my first.  I knew I would but, added to her kind and gentle nature, were her work ethics and strength of spirit. She is a treasure lost.

Not all art collectors have the opportunity to buy a Nancy. They are extremely rare to find on the market.

I hope you enjoy the exhibition and come away with an added appreciation of Aboriginal art. 


Dale Jennings,
Senior Art Curator

If you are interested to learn more about the origin of dots and how the artists paint them, read more at 'Fine Dot Paintings'.


Exhibition artworks

Exhibition artworks are no longer available. Please browse our collections to view all current paintings.

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