Betty Kuntiwa Pumani was born near Perenti Bore on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in north-west South Australia. She grew up on her family’s homeland around Antara and Victory Well, nestled among the vast granite hills of the Everard Ranges. As a young woman, Betty moved to Mimili, which is around thirty kilometres from her homeland.
Betty comes from a strong female family line. Her mother, Milatjari Pumani, was a very respected senior woman and one of the founding members of Mimili Maku Arts. She was also one of the early painters of the region, whose work was acquired by institutions and museums across Australia. Betty’s older sister Ngupulya was also a renowned painter and long-time chairperson of the art centre. Betty has followed in her mother’s and sister’s footsteps, working as a teacher and as a painter, in order to create a framework for passing on the stories of Antara and its significant Maku Tjukurpa (Witchetty Grub creation story) to the next generation. Since her sister’s passing, Betty has taken on the role of vice-chairperson for the art centre, maintaining the strong community leadership her family has held for many generations.
Betty is best known for her energetic paintings using a unique visual language that expresses the beauty, power and resilience of the land. Her signature reds evoke the rocky desert country of Antara, while also suggesting viscera and an unmistakable energy that runs through country. The contrasting areas of white and its subtle tonal shifts are a quiet and patient counterpoint celebrating the subtle strengths and dedication with which Betty and her family have cared for Antara since time immemorial.
Today Betty works alongside her daughter Marina at Mimili Maku Arts. Her artworks have been exhibited widely, and she has been selected as a finalist in a number of national art prizes. Betty has twice won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards’ General Painting Award (2015 and 2016) and has been awarded the prestigious Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2017). In 2019 she won the Lex Fox Painting Award at Castlemaine Art Gallery.
Most recently, Betty was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney to create her largest work to date, 10 x 3m. This work, now held in the permanent collection at the museum in Sydney, is the largest dot-painting created by any individual Aboriginal artist and a fitting celebration of Betty’s ongoing commitment to her practice and culture.