Shirley Purdie

Shirley Purdie with her publication Ngaginybe Jarragbe, My Story

Shirley Purdie has been painting for more than twenty years and is an artist of increasing significance and seniority. Her cultural knowledge and artistic skill complement each other to produce a practice that holds great strength. Shirley is also a prominent leader in Warmun community and an incisive cross-cultural communicator. Inspired by more senior Warmun artists including her late mother, the great Madigan Thomas, as well as Rover Thomas and Queenie McKenzie, Shirley began to paint her country in the early 1990s.

"It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that country, just like to take a photo, but there’s the Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) and everything. Good to put it in painting, your country, so kids can know and understand. When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too.” Shirley Purdie


In 2007 Shirley was awarded the Blake Prize for Religious Art for her major work Stations of the Cross. Colonial histories of the region also figure in Shirley’s work in which she relates accounts of early contact, massacre, warfare and indentured labour since the incursion of pastoralists into Gija land in the late 1800s. Shirley’s paintings have been hung in countless solo and group presentations across Australia. A large body of 72 works made after Gija medicinal plants and bush tucker was acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in 2016, following their Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form exhibition for which the series was commissioned. The artist was selected to contribute to the National Portrait Gallery’s special 20th anniversary celebration, So Fine!, commemorating ten important female visual arts practitioners. She continues to be one of Warmun’s leading artists and elders.