Amata Community and Art

The Amata community is located in the far north of South Australia on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal Lands. The community art centre is called Tjala Arts (formerly Minymaku Arts).

Amata was established as a cattle outstation in the 1960s, to take the pressure off the increasing growth of Pukatja (Ernabella). Amata is located in the far north west of South Australia close to the Northern Territory and South Australian border. It is approximately 500 kilometres south west of Alice Springs. For a sketch map of the region, click here (opens a new browser window).


Amata near the Musgrave Ranges


The community lies at the foot of the Musgrave Ranges and is made up of approximately 300 Anangu (Aboriginal people) with kinship ties to three groups from South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia. These are the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra groups. The community serves the needs of Anangu within Amata, as well as surrounding homelands and travellers.

Much of the imagery in Amata paintings is based on the designs first used by artists in their ‘punu‘ or wood carvings. TheĀ punu, decorated with linear burn marks in repetitive curves, continue to be produced by the Amata people. Amata’s Tjukurrpa is the Honey Ant Ancestor (Tjala). Amata paintings contain symbolic elements and use design conventions that vary slightly from artist to artist. The most common elements are:

  • solid circles of colour represent rockholes (kapi tjukula) or waterholes
  • stripes or ribbons of colour are creeks or kapi karu
  • ‘u’ shapes are women or men
  • footprints indicate tracks of the participants
  • animal footprints indicate the animal being hunted
  • half circles may represent a camp site, home or shelter
  • half concentric circles may represent women’s breasts
  • oval shapes represent bowls used for digging or carrying
  • stick shapes can be spears for men or digging sticks for women

Dots were originally used to outline design elements, but are now used to cover entire sections of a painting. Dots have a number of origins including replicating drawings originally worked in the sand, representing bird down, topography or vegetation. They may also mask sacred designs or be used to produce visually stimulating effects.

The designs can be interpreted in many ways depending on the viewer’s knowledge of ritual, country, food sources and associated Tjukurpa. They may show aspects of everyday life, details of the land and may be far more complex in meaning than explained by the artist. This is because the designs may contain meanings that are intended for public display but hide those that are not.

The paintings may also show food sources or the seasonality of the landscape as seen in paintings about bush tucker. The paintings do not have a horizon, hence the viewing or hanging orientation is not important unless indicated by the artist.