Tjawina Porter

About the artist

Portrait of Tjawina Porter in the outback
Tjawina is an internationally recognised artist. Her extensive cultural and topographical knowledge are evident in her paintings.

Early life

Tjawina Porter was born around 1931 and grew up in the Western Desert of Australia where she lived a traditional lifestyle with her family. Her birthplace was a site called Wirrulyl-Wirrulyl, west of Kuruyurltu. She first moved out of the bush to Warburton mission, then travelled to Kaltukatjara (Docker River) before there were any houses. 

Tjawina had three children all born in sites around the important country of Pangkupirri, two sons, Charlie and Mal Porter, and a daughter Fiona Young. 

After the death of Tjawina's father, her family moved to the then newly established government settlement of Papunya. After she heard family had moved back from the west, Tjawina returned to Kaltukatjara. After a death in the community, many family moved to live at Pulpa, which became an outstation near where the current Tjukurla community is. Everyone moved from Pulpa to Tjukurla when the community was established.

Extensive cultural and topographical knowledge put to canvas

Tjawina now lives between Tjukurla and Kaltukatjara, which are the communities that lie within the boundaries of her ancestral country.

Tjawina is a skilled craftsperson, and was well known for her skills as a traditional basket weaver and carver of punu before becoming recognised for her exceptional painting skills.

Her artworks represent the traditional homelands associated with her people's ancestral heritage. The iconography depicts tali (sand dunes) and puli (rock escarpments), as well as waterholes and food sources. Her designs are often used in body art during traditional ceremonies.

The artworks depict the physical markings that the ancient ancestors have provided to give evidence of their activities during the time of creation. Tjawina’s artworks are rich in symbolism and fine detail, with brushwork and dots travelling steadily across the canvas to reveal the undulating forms of her country.

Her extensive cultural and topographical knowledge are evident in her paintings, which evoke the movement and energy of desert landscapes.

In the years that Tjawina has been painting she has gained worldwide recognition, participating in many national and international group exhibitions. Her works are represented in private and public collections in Australia and overseas. 

In 2023, Tjawina’s unique and incredible life and career were celebrated with a body of paintings of 12 of her most treasured sites, accompanied by a documentary film in which she records her personal history for future generations of her family. This collection debuted at RAFT Artspace in Alice Springs in April 2023.