Artwork of the Week: Mens Ceremony

Image: Mens Ceremony /

Mens Ceremony /
Mens Ceremony /

Artwork: Mens Ceremony
Artist: Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri

About the Artwork: 

Recognised internationally as inherent to Indigenous Australians, the dot painting style is perhaps the nation’s most definitive art form.

For that reason, it is often presumed that dot painting is a traditional style as time-honoured as Aboriginal culture itself, but this is not the case. In truth, it is less than 50 years old, starting with by the arrival of white art school teacher Geoffrey Bardon in Papunya, an isolated Indigenous community in the Western Australian Desert. Bardon asked the children at his school to paint a mural using traditional style, but when the elders saw what the students were doing, they decided to paint their own creation on the front of the school: Honey Ant Dreaming.

Honey Ant Dreaming
Honey Ant Dreaming, with the Indigenous artists before it.

One of these elders was Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, and over the next two years he would join with 22 other members of his community to form Papunya Tula – the Western Desert Art Movement. One of the most important events in Australian art history, it would bring dot painting to the region, the country, and the world.

Mens Ceremony, painted in 1982, depicts elders preparing ceremonial grounds for a painting ritual. As the artist prepares to paint a Dreaming story, the tale is often sung to accompany the crafting. Yet Indigenous culture is steeped in secrecy, even within individual clans, and so it is that more exclusive Dreaming stories are often camouflaged within the dots.

Billy became one of the most prominent members of Papunya Tula, and his work often noted as a prize example of the style’s intricacy, value, and simple yet potent ability to tell an important story.

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