Judith Pungarta Inkamala is a renowned Western Aranda artist, who since 1993 has been working at the Hermannsburg Potters in her community of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) in Central Australia. Inkamala sculpts terracotta vessels using a coiling technique and paints imagery depicting life in her community onto these forms with underglazes. These works speak to her strong connection to Country and Western Aranda culture, as well as her dedication to her ceramic practice.

Encouraged by her mother, Inkamala shares her life story in her latest body of work, Atha Yia Nukanha Ilama. Onto each of her hand-built clay forms, she has intricately painted scenes that depict poignant moments throughout her life. Atop each vessel is a small sculptural lid that draws on part of the story that is told invessel below it.

My mum told me when I grow up, I gotta tell my story. Atha yia nukanha ilama.

I was born near the football oval, there was a lot of humpy house. It was the mission days.

Then, I walked with my knees. When I was four or five years old, I went with my mum and saw all the ladies getting rations for food and second-hand clothes.

Then I went to school at the mission. They said ‘you gotta learn English’. The Aboriginal teacher would teach us to sing in Aranda. I learnt how to draw and paint.

After school I would go with my friend Jillian Namatjira to watch all the artists paint. Her grandfather was Albert Namatjira. We would watch them work.

Some days we would go and watch my uncles working at the tannery. They would make shoes, saddles and bridles out of bullock skin and kangaroo skin. They would make nice blankets too.

We would go fishing on the weekends with my family. It was good fun swimming, I was happy.

Judith Inkamala

Judith Pungarta Inkamala, Western Aranda people, Northern Territory, born Ntaria (Hermannsburg), Northern Territory 1947, Urlpaatja, 2023, terracotta,underglaze, 18.0 x 9.0 cm and Baby with Mother, 2022, terracotta, underglaze, 45.0 x 34.0 cm; photo: Bec Capp.

The Hermannsburg Potters

Ntaria is 130 kilometres from Alice Springs. The Hermannsburg Mission was established by Lutheran missionaries in 1877 on the banks of the Finke River, west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). The Aranda people have a long tradition of making art at Hermannsburg, drawing inspiration from traditional knowledge systems while using innovative approaches and new media.

In 1990 the Hermannsburg Potters began working in clay after assistance from the ceramicist and teacher, Naomi Sharp from the Northern Territory Open College of TAFE. The Hermannsburg Potters continue to express their own stories in their sculptural pots, gaining inspiration from their connection to culture as well as daily life such as their passion for Australian Rules Football.

  • Looking at the scenery and landscape in each of Inkamala’s pots, what do you think Ntaria is like? Look up Ntaria on a map. How far away is it from where you live? What would the climate be like?
  • What birds can you identify atop Inkamala’s vessels? You might need to do some research, as to which birds are endemic to Ntaria. What birds are endemic to where you live or where your school is located?
  • Look closely at each of Inkamala’s pots in this series. Write a summary for each – what story or event do you think she has painted?

Judith Pungarta Inkamala, Western Aranda people, Northern Territory, born Ntaria (Hermannsburg), Northern Territory 1947, Tuakitja, ceramic pot, 18.0 x 9.0 cm, Urlpaatja, ceramic pot, 18.0 x 9.0 cm, Irnpinpa Kngarritja, ceramic pot, 18.0 x 9.0 cm, ; © the artist / Hermannsburg Potters; photo: Bec Capp.

  • Compare Inkamala’s work with other contemporary ceramic artists, such as Peter Cooley, Glenn Barkley, Penny Evans, Helen Fuller, Alfred Lowe, Zenji Miyashita, Gloria Fletcher Thancoupie, Angela Valamanesh, Gerry Wedd and Kondō Yūzō. What similarities do they share in terms of form and imagery? You may like to group them while analysing. Things to consider:
    • What type of clay are they made from?
    • Were they made in Australia?
    • Are they hand-built, thrown on a wheel or cast?
    • What are the vessels about? How many of these works depict or are responding a landscape?
  • Inkamala has made her pots by using the hand-coil technique. Explore this hand-building technique to make your own vessel in clay.
    Getting Started: The National Gallery of Victoria have produced a great resource looking at the making of pots by the Hermansburg Potters. Follow this link >>
  • Atha Yia Nukanha Ilama depicts her life story. One of the large vessels for example shows Inkamala’s mother holding her as a baby, capturing what life was like at that time. Using your coil-built vessel as a canvas, paint a memorable moment from your life or someone you know onto your pot. If you don’t have clay, you might create a 2D design or select an object that is significant to this moment in some way and paint your story onto this instead. For example: It could be a piece of old sporting equipment, musical instruments or an item of clothing.
    Tip: ask your music, drama or PE department if they have any broken equipment that could be repurposed.
  • Inkamala creates vessels that tell stories of the surrounding Country and wildlife. Design a jar or vessel that depicts an Australian animal and its natural habitat. Alternatively, research an animal that is endangered and show the threats that are contributing to its decline in your design.
    Extension: Other Hermannsburg Potters such as Rona Panangka Rubuntja, made pots that capture the sporting achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australian Rules Football. Create a work of art that depicts your greatest achievement.

Judith Pungarta Inkamala making pots at Hermannsburg Potters' studio in Ntaria. Judith was one of the first artists to work at the pottery in Ntaria. She is now a senior and respected artist: image courtesy Hermannsburg Potters; photo: Genevieve Walshe.

This education resource has been written in collaboration with Kylie Neagle, Education Coordinator and Dr. Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs

Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.

AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.