Niningka Munkuri Lewis


Born: 01/01/45
Birth Place: North of Areyonga
Language: Pitjantjatjara
Community: Ernabella
Region: Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yangkunytjatjara (APY) Lands
Mother's Country: Ngaanytjara Lands (WA)
Father's Country: Near Pipylatjara, APY Lands (SA)
Dreaming: Wanampi



Niningka was born in the bush in 1945 at a place north of Areyonga. Her parents had previously come to live at Ernabella but were on holiday on foot, as people would do every year still at that time. As a baby she came to Ernabella and grew up here, accompanying her family on annual holidays to many places such as Angus Downs, Curtin Springs and Imanpa. After school she worked at the Ernabella Mission craft room, where Winifred Hilliard taught her how to spin sheep’s wool and weave rugs. She moved to Amata as a young woman and worked in the clinic before settling in Kalka where she married and had one son. She moved to nearby Kalka where she developed her skills in batik, and went on to be one of the supervisors for the Kalka women’s center. It was around the same time, in 1997, that Niningka was introduced to coiled basketry.

Niningka is also an expert woodcarver, who made punu carvings for Maruku Arts at Uluru. She often decorates her baskets with these small figurative carvings, or other applied decorations like emu feathers, ininti seeds, and overstitched or embroidered designs, as well as brightly colored wool/raffia patterns woven into her baskets. Her talents as a sculptor are also apparent in the range of forms she creates from baskets, hats, sandals, cups, saucepans, birds and even small motor cars. Niningka made the first life-sized grass figure for the Tjanpi Manguri Weaving exhibition in 2000 that anticipated the Tjanpi Desert Weavers' move into figurative sculpture-making. This saw them win the NATSIAAs with their tjanpi Toyota sculpture.

Niningka is highly regarded for her innovative creativity. When Niningka’s husband sadly passed away, she came back to Ernabella to be at home and to spend time with her older sister, Pantjiti Lionel. She now works at the Ernabella art center again, painting, making tjanpi, punu, mukata (beanies), ceramics and batik.

Niningka has been concentrating on her painting at the art center since 2009. This has seen her Highly Commended in the painting section of the 2010 NATSIAAs and in 2011 she had her first solo exhibition, at Melbourne's Alcaston Gallery.


Screenprints on paper
Tjanpi (Grass and raffia baskets and sculpture)
Punu (Wooden artefacts)
Spinning and mukata


Mission days in Ernabella
Travel and hunting in the Toyota
Old way/New way - Changing culture for Anangu Pitjantjatjara
Malara (Part of the Rainbow Serpent Tjukurpa)


West, Margie and Foster, Jo ‘Tjanpi Desert Weavers Paarpakani: Tjanpi Desert Weavers take flight’ pp. 62-
71 in 'Deadly. In-between Heaven and Hell' Fulvia Mantelli and Renee Johnson 2012
'Tjanpi Desert Weavers' Macmillan Mini-Art Series #19 2012
Watson, Penny. 'Tjanpi Desert Weavers' Macmillan 2012


Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, 2008
Object Gallery, NSW, 2008
Artbank, 2009, 2012
Art Gallery of South Australia, 2010, 2012
Araluen Arts, 2010
Australian Museum, 2010
W. & V. McGeoch, 2011


2010 Highly Commended finalist in the NATSIAA Telstra Awards, Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory,
2009 Me and My Toyota Art Prize, Toyota Australia