Lorna Fencer Naparrula | Bush Potato Dreaming

CountryLajamanu, Tanami Desert, Western Australia
MediumAcrylic on Belgium Linen
Size127 cm x 94 cm

This painting tells the dreamtime story of two women of the Napurrula and Nakamarra skin groups who are searching the countryside for bush potatoes, “Yarla”.

Bush Potatoes grow as roots underground, so the women must use the digging sticks to find them.

The lines represent the complex root system and branches of the bush potato plant. The circles throughout the painting are where the women dig to retrieve the bush potatoes.

The artist is a Senior Custodian for this “dreaming” which took place at Duck Ponds in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Lorna Napurrula Fencer’s biography

Acknowledged as one of the great innovators of the Warlpiri art movement from Lajamanu, Lorna Napurrula Fencer (1923- 2006) was both a fierce and gentle custodian of her culture. She painted the great Napurrula-Nakamarra creation stories from her brother’s custodial site at Yurmurrpa. These ceremonial stories re-enact the myths of the Ancestors who dug out the first yarla, or bush potato, from the earth around the underground water source at Yurmurrpa.

Embedded in the swirling shapes of the bush potato leaves are the “U” shapes of the Napurrula and Nakamarra women, who remain the custodians and the beneficiaries of their great Ancestors’ achievements. The travels of Napurrula and Nakamarrra kinship or skin groups are the inspiration for Lorna Fencer’s work, and she was a custodian of the Dreamings associated with bush potato (yarla), caterpillar (luju), bush onion, yam, bush tomato, bush plum, many different seeds, and (importantly) water.

Lorna Fencer was a senior Warlpiri artist, born at Yartulu Yartulu, and custodian of inherited lands of Yumurrpa in the Tanami Desert. In 1949 many Warlpiri people, including Lorna Napurrula were forcibly moved from Yuendumu community by the government, to go a settlement at Lajamanu 250 miles north in the country of the Gurindji people. Napurrula managed to maintain and strengthen her cultural commitment through ceremonial activity and art, and asserted her position as a prominent elder figure in the community. Lorna Napurrula Fencer began her painting in the mid 1980s.

Lorna Fencer at her best is recognised as an artist who was a master of colour, carefully considering the impact as she laid down the paint on the canvas. Her large epic canvases created in the eighth decade of her life were final and compelling statements about the power of the great Warlpiri stories that she painted for over twenty years.

Lorna’s mother’s country was Yumurrpa. This is where the Yarla (Yam or Big Bush Potato) Dreaming track begins on its travels north toward Lajamanu. Her father’s country was Wapurtali, home of the little bush potato. Before she began painting on canvas in the mid 1980s, Lorna Napurrula Fencer painted on traditional women’s coolamons and digging sticks.

Lorna Fencer is represented in the Australian National Gallery and National Gallery of Victoria, in State Galleries and major private collections. In 2011 a major touring survey exhibition titled ‘Yulyurlu – Lorna Napurrula Fencer’ travelled around Australian institutional galleries. Aboriginal art status – Iconic artist.


1991     Aboriginal Art, Australian Embassy, Washington USA
1991     Paint Up Big:  Warlpiri Women’s Art from Lajamanu, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne VIC
1991     Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court of Australia, Canberra ACT
1994     Yapakurlangu Wirrkardu, Batchelor College, Tennant Creek NT
1996     All About Art, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne VIC
1997     Women’s Body Paint, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne VIC
1997     Recent Acquisitions, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne VIC
1997     Me Warlpiri, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne VIC
1997/8  John McCaughey Memorial Art Prize, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne VIC
1998     Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra ACT
1998     Yulyulu, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne VIC
1998     6th Australian Contemporary Art Fair, Exhibition Building, Melbourne VIC
1998     Warnayaka Warlpiri, Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin NT
1988     People, Place and Art, Hilton International Hotel, Adelaide SA
1998     Wild Warlpiri Women, Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney NSW
1999     Paintings from Lajamanu Community, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
1999     Brit’s Art & Promotion, Jülich, Gondwana Gallerie, Rome Italy
1999     Tjinyipjila-Australian Message, Washington USA
1999     Love, Magic, Erotics & Politics in Indigenours Art, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney
1999     Indigenious Art of the Dreamtime, United Nations Buildings, New York USA
2000     Brit’s Art & Promotion, Jülich, Germany;  Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Köln;  UFA-Factory, Berlin
2000     Expo 2000, Australian Pavillion, Hannover
2000     Australian Night in Berlin
2000     Artists of Lajamanu, Tanami Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2000     Indigenous Artists Exhibition, Yuwayi Gallery, Sydney, NSW
2001     Brit’s Art & Promotion, Düsseldorf; State Museum for Nature and Man, Oldenburg; Quellenhof- Dorint Hotel, Aachen, Germany
2001     Little Gems, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2002     Jinta Jungu  – Museum for Natural History, Humbold-University, Berlin, Germany
2002     Art & Communication, Vodafone – Ratingen
2002     Lorna Napurrula Fencer – Powerful New Paintings from the Tanami Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2002     Lorna Napurrula Fencer – The Big Picture, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2002     Lorna Fencer – Inner Spring – New Works from the Tanami
2003     Serenitiy – Past and Present, Walsrode
2003     Lorna Napurrula  Fencer,  Chapman Galleries, Canberra ACT
2003     Lorna Napurrula Fencer – Paintings 2003, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2003     Lorna Napurrula Fencer –New Paintings, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2003     Big Country (Group Exhibition) – Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT – Mary Place Gallery, Sydney NSW
2004     Divas of the Desert Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
2004     Big Country, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
2004     Yumurlpa,  Gow Langsford Gallery, Sydney NSW
2004     Telstra Awards – Finalist, Darwin NT
2005     Lorna Napurrula Fencer, Hogarth Galleries, Sydney NSW
2005     Divas of the Desert, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs NT
2005     Lorna Napurrula Fencer- Yumurrpa – Paintings 2005, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne VIC
2006     Luminaries of the Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2007     Lorna Napurrula Fencer – A Tribute, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2008     Women’s Law, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2011     Yulyurlu: Lorna Fencer Napurrula, Australian National University, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra ACT
2012     Heirs and Successors, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2012     The Colourists: Kudditji Kngwarreye & Lorna Napurrula Fencer , Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA