Kitty Kantilla

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Kitty Kantilla also known as Kutuwalumi Purawarrumpatu (c. 1928 – 4 October 2003) was a renowned Aboriginal artist from the Tiwi Islands of the Northern Territory of Australia. She worked in a variety of media, including carved ironwood sculptures, tunga (bark baskets), painting on paper, canvas and prints. Her work is held in collections around Australia.

Early life[edit]

Kantilla was born on at Piripumawu on the eastern coast of Melville Island. She grew up on Yimpinari country on Melville Island. She grew up traditionally, eating the abundant bush foods local to the area, living under paperbark shelters and speaking ‘old’ Tiwi. She lived at Paru on Melville Island, moving temporarily to the mission on Bathurst Island after the Japanese bombings of the Tiwi Islands in 1941. She later returned to Paru, where a number of artists were based. Those artists travelled by canoe or swam to Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) to sell their work.

During the 1970s she moved to nearby Bathurst Island to live in her mother’s country where she began work as an artist, mostly carving tutini (grave poles) and figures.


Kantilla’s artistic work appears to have begun with her creation of figurative carvings of ironwood while living in Paru on Melville Island after the death of her husband in 1968. In describing her work from this period Kantilla said:

“The jilamara that I do, it's my father’s design. I watched him as young girl and I’ve still got design in my head. As a young girl, when my sister passed away, I watched him. When he died, I did the same design, right through Nguiu [Paru], I kept painting. When my husband died in Adelaide, they wanted to give me a widow’s pension but I said, ‘No, I’ll work, make jilamara, carving, make my own living’. Right through all the way, working everyday! When we gathered logs for carving, there was no transport! We carried them on our shoulder, walking, having a rest, walking a long way, heavy work. We worked at home [Paru], with no chainsaws, just tomahawk, carving, hard work. Then we would take the carvings by canoe, paddling across to Nguiu to sell them".[1]

In the late-1980s Kantilla moved back to Melville Island, living at Milikapiti where she began to produce her more contemporary work.[2][3]

She produced most of her work through the new Jilamara Arts and Craft Association which was established in 1989. She quickly became one of its leading artists, where she was known as "Dot Dot" or the "Queen of Jilamara".[3] She had her first solo show at Aboriginal and South Pacific Gallery, Surry Hills, Sydney in 1994.

Before her death in 2003 her work had been exhibited in major exhibitions such as Pumpuni Jilamara: Tiwi Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002, Beyond the Pale at the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2000 and at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Her works are held widely in the collections of major art galleries around Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum Victoria and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.[2][4][5]


Kantilla's work was cited as an important influence on the work of the Australian ceramic artist Pippin Drysdale.[6]


  1. ^ Ryan, Judith (2007). Kitty Kantilla. Melbourne, Australia: Council of Trusteers of the National Gallery of Victoria. ISBN 9780724102839 – via Northern Territory Library.
  2. ^ a b "Kitty Kantilla". Australian Art Network. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Kitty Kantilla". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  4. ^ "Kitty Kantilla". National Gallery of Victoria. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  5. ^ "Kitty Kantilla". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  6. ^ Snell, Ted. "Artist Statement" (PDF). Pippin Drysdale official site. P Drysdale. Retrieved 20 October 2018.