Michael Nelson Jagamarra

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DOB: c.1946-9
LANGUAGE GROUP: Warlpiri/Luritja

Michael Jagamara (also spelt Jagamarra or Tjakamarra) was born circa 1946-49 at Pikilyi (Vaughan Springs) west of Yuendemu, in Central Australia. he was taught sand paintings, body paintings and shield paintings by his grandfather when he was a boy. His country, near Vaughan Springs, lies at the intersection of several major Dreaming paths and, thus, his paintings depict these many sacred sites He is the custodian of many Dreaming stories and believes it is his responsibility to preserve, in paint and print, the stories which can assist the teaching of others about his tradition and culture. Michael is a Warlpiri and Luritja speaker.

Acclaimed as an outstanding artist who has a unique ability to articulate the meaning of his work, Michael Nelson has been instrumental in communicating the significance of Aboriginal culture and art to the world and views it as a political tool to gain more leverage for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. To Michael, art, religion and politics cannot be separated. He believes that greater political recognition, established through Aboriginal Art will also create more room for spiritual expression and a deeper understanding of Aboriginal beliefs.

The father of six girls and one boy, Michael Nelson Jagamara is a family orientated man. "When I paint I always have my children around me. I talk to them and tell them stories about our country. We often sit around the camp fire, telling stories. I want to pass on my culture. I'm proud of my work."

"Acrylic paintings really represent Aboriginal recognition of their place in Australian society. Aboriginal art is best though, in my mind, as a wedge into the dominant world-view of European society."

He began painting in 1981 at Papunya where he still lives today with his wife Marjorie. There he observed the work of older artists and by 1983 he had began to paint regularly. He paints Possum, Snake, Two Kangaroos, Flying Ant and Yam Dreamings from the area around Pikilyi as well as lightning, rain, shields and sacred sites. He paints several Dreaming stories on a single work: "I thought to myself - I'll do different way to them mob instead of copying them. Do my own way".

Michael Nelson always plans a painting in his mind. By contemplating the relationship between conceptual design and the body of knowledge that it relates to, he forms a holistic integration which represents Aboriginal people through time, space and the land itself.

"Aboriginal Art is different to Non-Aboriginal Art. They make it up in their imagination but ours are not just pretty pictures. Our stories are given to us to carry and pass on to our children. Non-Aboriginal people have to be prepared, when they see our paintings, to learn something about Aboriginal culture."

In 1993 Michael received an Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his vital contribution to Aboriginal Art. In 2001 Michael was a finalist in the 18th Telstra NATSIAA. Commissions include a painting in the Sydney Opera House 1987 and a mosaic in the forecourt at Parliament House, Canberra, 1988.

He visited the USA with Billy Stockman in 1988 for the opening of the "Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal Australia" exhibition in New York. In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition, followed by shows in 1990 and 1993.

In 1992 BMW approached Michael as well as several other prominent Australian Artists such as Ken Done, to paint a BMW car in his traditional design. The car supplied was the car that won the Shell Ultra Australian Touring Championship in 1987. The car is not in a private art collection.

In 1998 his painting career took a remarkable turn with the production of modernist works belonging to the New Expressions series. After painting for a number of years in a controlled style with layers of dots, bands and circles with a subdued colour range, his new works broke out in an explosion of bright colours and energetic gestures.
He is the subject of a major publication by Vivian Johnson (Michael Jagamara Nelson, 1997). More recently Michael's work was shown in 'Mythology and Reality: Contemporary Aboriginal Desert Art from the Gabrielle Pizzi Collection', 2001-2004, which toured Palazzo Bricherasio Turin, Italy; AAM Utrecht, Netherlands, Prato Centre, Italy; Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, Israel; SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne.


  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
  • Australian Museum, Sydney
  • Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra
  • Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
  • The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth
  • Artbank, Sydney
  • BMW Art Car Project, USA
  • Broken Hill Art Gallery, Brokern Hill
  • Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
  • Opera House, Sydney
  • The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, USA
  • Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne

Awards and Recognition

2008 Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney - Finalist
1994 Fellowship from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.
1993 Order of Australia Medal for services to Aboriginal art
1987 4th NATSIAA - Finalist
1984 1st NATSIAA - Finalist and Winner First Prize


Selected Solo Exhibitions:

2016 Yam Wall, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2012 Red Desert Dreamings Gallery, Melbourne
2012 Lightning Man, FireWorks Gallery Brisbane
2010 Summer Storms, FireWorks Gallery Brisbane
2008 MICHAEL NELSON JAGAMARA: from the studio, Fireworks Gallery,
2006 Michael Jagamara: Stone Knife Arrangements, Fireworks Gallery
2006 Lines + Signs, Artstation Kollmitzberg, Austria
2002 MNJ & Campfire Group, Adelaide Fringe Festival, Adelaide City Hall
2002 A Foot in Two Worlds, Kuko Dreaming, Kollmitzberg, Austria
2000 Some Other Way: Michael Nelson Jagamarra and Campfire Group, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2000 Japingka Gallery, Fremantle
1999 Without the Story, the Painting Is Nothing, Brisbane City Gallery
1999 New Expressions, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
1999 New Work, Desart Gallery, Sydney
1998 Michael Nelson Jagamarra (a preview), Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
1997 Nine Dreamings from Mount Singleton, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
1993 Many Stories, Utopia Art, Sydney
1990 Michael Nelson Jagamara, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1989 Michael Nelson Jagamara, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne

Selected Group Exhibitions:

2021 Papunya Tula: 50 years 1971-2021, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney
2021 Body Line, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2020 Spring, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2020 Stockroom Strays, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2020 Blue July, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Matches 7: Michael Nelson Jagamara - A Shared Space, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Large Showroom; Large Works, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Matches 6: Three clusters, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Small Mercies, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2017 Weather Patterns II, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2017 Along the Lines, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2002 Twenty-five years and beyond: Papunya Tula Painting, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
2002 Galerie Commines, Paris
2002 Australian Embassy, Paris
2001 Icons of Australian Aboriginal Art, Singapore
2000 Landmarks, Powerhouse Museum, Brisbane, Darr Indigenous Festival
1999 My Dreaming, Redrock Gallery, Melbourne
1999 Twenty-Five Years & Beyond: Papunya Tula Painting Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide
1999 Indigenous art of the Dreamtime, Foyer of the United Nations Building, New York
1998 Powerful Medicine Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
1998 4th National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Art of Place, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra
1996 Dreamings of the Desert - Aboriginal Dot Painting of the Western Desert, AGSA
1993-1994 ARATJARA, Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London: Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark
1993 Tjukurrpa, Desert Dreamings, Aboriginal Art from Central Australia (1971 - 1993), Art Gallery of WA, Perth
1993 Aboriginal Art Exhibition, Kung Gubunga Oasis Gallery, Broadbeach, QLD
1992 Crossroads - Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia, National Museums of Modern Art, Koyoto and Tokyo
1992 Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs
1991 The Painted Dream: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from the Tim and Vivien Johnson Collection, Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Whare o Aoteroa National Art Gallery, New Zealand
1991 Flash Pictures, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1991 Alice to Penzance, The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra
1990 National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome
1990 Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
1989 Windows on the Dreaming, Australian National Gallery, Canberra
1989 Papunya Tula: Contemporary Paintings from Australia's Western Desert, John Weber Gallery, New York
1989 Centro Cultural Arte Contemporeano, Mexico City, Mexico
1989 Aboriginal Art: The Continuing Tradition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1989 A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Design Warehouse, Sydney (through Lauraine Diggins Fine Art)
1988 Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia, The Asia Society Galleries, New York
1987 State of the Art: Ideas & Images of the 1980's, Institute of Contemporary Art, London.
1987 Papunya Tula: 1982-1983, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
1986 The Biennale of Sydney, Sydney
1986 Roar Studios, Melbourne
1985 The Face of the Centre: Papunya Tula Paintings 1971-1984, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1984 The First National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
1984 Papunya and Beyond, Araluen Centre, Alice Springs