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Trephina Sultan / Thanguwa - Tribe Luritja - Aboriginal Artist

Aboriginal Indigenous Artist - Tribe Luritja - Alice Springs / Central Australia
Name: Trephina Sultan
Aboriginal Name: Thanguwa (pronounced Thu-ng-oo-wu)
Tribe name: Luritja (Southern Dialect)*
Born: Alice Springs Hospital
Grew up: Kings Canyon Region in an area named UKAKA
(pronounced ookaka).

Born in 1967 in Alice Springs, Trephina is a proud Luritja woman who grew up with many uncles, aunties and cousins. She was the only child in her family.

Trephina’s painting talents started at a very young age. As a young girl she used to sit and watch her uncles, aunties, cousins and friends paint for hours at a time. She would then pick up a stick and draw her art in the dirt.

With her mother and aunty a big influence in her life, Trephina went to the English speaking school at Alice Springs. Even though English became Trephina’s first language, she was taught Luritja, the language of her family and Elders at home. Trephina, in her own words, had the best of both worlds.

The language skill she acquired stood Trephina in good stead. Acknowledged as a Luritja language specialist, she did work as an interpreter and in conjunction with colleagues and the Alice Springs Institute for Aboriginal Development, was a valuable contributor to an Aboriginal-English dictionary.

For Trephina, her main love is painting. When asked what inspires her artwork, she speaks about her connection to the ‘old people’. She reveals that when she sits down in conversation with the elders, around the fire, she is inspired by their heart, spirituality, land, songline and country. It is this that she strives to capture in her art.

For the Indigenous People of Australia, the creation of art using the natural resources around them, dates back many thousands of years in Aboriginal culture. Art had revolved around symbolism and a limited set of colours, created by crushing ochres found in the region. Much of the early works were found depicted on rocks and in caves. The early 70s saw a change in the tools they used and a shift in style, with many Aboriginal artists expanding beyond the original colours of ochre, whilst using the modern medium of acrylic and canvas, interpreting their dream time and culture through the classic ‘dot-style’ that is synonymous with Aboriginal art movement.

Many of Trephina’s early work is done in this ‘dot-style’. Although she still produces artwork in this style, Trephina like many artists, has evolved from the natural colours reflected in the landscape of ‘Central Australia’ to expanding to a larger palate of colours. Other changes can also be seen in her work, as she moves from tentative brush work  to painting in masterful strokes of vibrant hues, producing some very popular works such as ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’ (Burning Grass), Kapi Nguru (From Water), and Kamiku Ara (Grandmothers Way).

These beautiful works are evocative and captures the very essence of Aboriginal culture. It was interesting to hear from Trephina, how the style for her ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’ had developed. She use to do it as a background and really liked the brush strokes on it’s own. It evoked memories of her past...

...for generations our people have burnt off the bush land for hunting purposes, safety and regrowth.

Now taking centre stage, each new ‘Tjanpi Kampanyi’ would burn in its own flames. With each canvas, Trephina would vary the colour and intensity, some showing black in the background, some white, others with bright orange-yellow flames. Even the size of the canvas would vary, from small two panel pieces, to larger 2 metre long paintings.

New works are emerging from her brush stokes, reflecting this abstract style, as can be seen in her ‘Bush Onions’, ‘Bush Honey’, ‘Voices in the Wind’, ‘Bush Tobacco’ and ‘Grass Seed’. With many ideas swirling around in her head, and the penchant for trying new ideas, we continue to look forward to seeing Trephina’s future works.

Trephina’s paintings represent her family’s culture, upbringing as a young child, and stories as told by her Elders. They capture their heart, their spirituality, songlines and their country. Her paintings include Aboriginal symbolism of vegetation, food sources, watering holes and the wildlife of Central Australia. Sometimes, she would wake up in the early morning with a memory resonating from her past. These may be a story or answer to some current piece she is working on. Every day activities can inspire a new ideas, for a new painting.

Of course, some stories cannot be told, whilst others would require that Trephina seek permission from her Elders.

Trephina’s paintings have been bought by visitors to the Alice Springs area, over many years, and are displayed in houses all over Australia and the World. More recent works have been exhibited and sold in an exhibition in Melbourne.

Trephina’s mother side of the family are ‘Desert People’, but her father side of the family are ‘Saltwater People’ from the Gulf region of Normanton to Croydon.

Many of her works has been created under the name of Trephina Sultan, although she still continues to use this name on different works, some of her works will also bear her Aboriginal name of ‘Thanguwa’. The equivalent meaning in English is ‘scent’.

Thanguwa is actually Trephina’s grandmothers name on her mothers side. Her family and relatives started calling her Thanguwa when they could see how like her grandmother she resembled, even down to the shyness. This shyness in Trephina is balanced by the ability to be able to get up and talk, to not be frightened and to challenge herself.

As a mother, Trephina has five children, 2 sons and 3 daughter, some of whom paint. Her son Rueben Sultan has created a couple of works, that follow in his mother’s footstep. Click here to see his sold work.

Trephina Sultan at work
* Luritja is the name used to describe the several dialects of the Western Desert Language, the people who speak these dialects, and their traditional lands.

The Luritja lands encompass the areas to the west and south of Alice Springs, extending around the edge of Arrernte country. The area surrounding Papunya, including Mount Liebig is often referred to as Papunya Luritja, both in land and language. Further west and close to the Western Australia border is Kintore where a variety of Luritja is spoken often referred to as Pintupi/Luritja. The areas to the south-east around Finke and Maryvale are often referred to as Titjikala Luritja (Maryvale is the name of the cattle station on Titjikala land). My family come from the Kings Canyon region, which is also referred to as Luritja country.

The total population of Luritja people (that includes the Papunya Luritja) is thought to number in the thousands, making them the 3rd largest of the Central Australian Aboriginal populations, behind that of the Arrernte (2nd largest and who live in and around Alice Springs) and Pitjantjatjara (the largest community who live in the area around Uluru).
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