Linda Syddick aka Tjunkaya Wukula Napaltjarri
Born: Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay), Western Australia
Language: Pintupi / Pitjantjatjara
Linda Tjunkaya Wulula Syddick Napaltjarri was born about 1937 around Lake Mackay in the Gibson Desert near the Northern Territory and Western Australian borders to a Pitjantjatjara mother, Napulu Nangala and a Pintupi father, Riintja Tjungurrayi. After her father was speared in a revenge killing at Warlukantjina in the Gibson Desert when Linda was a young girl she and her mother escaped to Kintore.
There her mother became the second wife of Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi who was Riintja’s younger brother. Shorty raised Linda as his own daughter and would become, in 1972, one of the founding artists of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd.
As a young girl Linda lived a nomadic life where she gained intimate knowledge of her Pintupi homelands.
Due to a horrific drought in the 1940’s a small group, including Linda’s family, walked east far from their ancestral homelands to Mt Liebig and finally to Haasts Bluff around 1945. Later Linda would tell the story of how they were so thirsty when the witchdoctor travelling with them first saw a windmill. Believing it to be a demonic spirit he wouldn’t let anyone near and attacked it with his magic. Shorty Lungkata Tjungarrayi, who was also the holder of important Dreaming stories and the spirit world, and had had previous contact with ‘white fellas’ convinced the witchdoctor the windmill was ‘white fella’ magic and provided good water. This would become one of the important stories for Linda’s paintings.
A story Linda told was when her mother saw her first vehicle at Haasts Bluff. Hearing it had come from Alice Springs which was a long way to travel it must be thirsty. Therefore, Linda’s mother put a bowl of water in front of the vehicle.
Another story was why she painted three bags. When they arrived at the Haasts Bluff Lutheran Mission and were given calico bags of flour, sugar and salt they couldn’t believe how useful the bags were as it was possible to carry all three at once – as opposed to the traditional coolamon.
Linda and her step-father, Shorty Lungkata Tjungarrayi were moved to Papunya, (described my Judith Ryan in the Foreward to Papunya Tula; Art of the Western Desert; 1991) ‘a woebegone government settlement – where free nomadic peoples were brought to ‘sit down’ and be Europeanised’. There Shorty taught Linda to paint, as did her ‘uncles’ Uta Uta Tjangala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula. All three became founding members of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd and amongst its most famous artists.
With her first husband, Tom Wilpintja Tjampitjinpa, Linda had seven children and lived in Haasts Bluff before moving back to Papunya. Linda’s second husband, Musty Syddick is mentioned in Papunya Tula records as an artist. Linda’s third husband, Russell Sims, was a dentist in his younger years. In 1990 they travelled to Sydney to see Linda’s painting ‘Ngkarte Dreaming’ in the annual Blake Prize for Religious art.
In 1993 Linda accompanied Jeremy Long, (who had made nine patrols to the Western Desert on behalf of the Northern Territory Welfare Branch between 1957 and 1964) to lands south of Lake Macdonald including the Emu Dreaming site of Warlukantjina which was closely connected with Shorty Lungkata. Linda’s art often depicts men’s Tingari Dreamings, which Linda is adamant Shorty gave her permission to paint after his death. These included the Emu Story from Warlukantjina and the Snake story from her mother’s family.
Linda’s paintings reflect her deep knowledge of the Dreaming and her religious beliefs. She can use her Western Desert symbols, often events in her own life and, sometimes, religious symbols in the one painting. Linda would often talk about her love of the movie ‘ET’ and how she had seen it over twenty times.
In 2002 a portrait of Linda was hung in the Art Gallery of NSW for the Archibald Prize.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Auckland Art Gallery
Musee des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, Paris
The Kelton Foundation
Vivian Johnson, Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists, IAD Press, 2008