Born 1944 near Watarru, South Australia; Lives and works Indulkana, Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, South Australia
"We need to heal this Country, and give more respect to the land. My painting shows many of the good places in my Country."
Desert + Coast: Seven Elder Aboriginal Painters
Betty Muffler is a highly respected senior Pitjantjatjara woman with a contemporary art practice spanning painting, drawing, printmaking, and tjanpi (native grass) weaving. Muffler most often works with a monochrome approach to color, favoring soft whites, sometimes with the introduction of pastel hues. Rendered from an eagle’s perspective, Muffler’s work articulates interconnected and seemingly ever-expanding networks of energies and ecologies against stark black backgrounds. The densely layered and sprawling patterns that unfold throughout her work reflect the topographical features and cultural geography of her Country, specifically her birthplace at Yalungu, and often reference her father’s Country.
Muffler grew up at the Ernabella Mission in Pukatja, South Australia after being displaced from her homelands in the aftermath of the British nuclear testing at Maralinga and Emu Field throughout the 1950s. Her lived experience witnessing and surviving the devastation to Country that followed motivates her recurring depiction of healing sites, the “good places” on her Country, and her intent to convey a message: that greater respect to land is needed.
Additionally, Muffler is a renowned ngankari (traditional healer), having learned this practice from her aunties, from knowledge handed down through her father’s side. She works extensively with Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council and other medical services to support Aṉangu to good health and through times of crisis. Her ngankari and painting practices are intertwined; each brushstroke resonates with and responds to the energy that moves in, out, and through the body during her healing practice. She has explained: “My paintings are significant. They refer to my work as a healer of the body, and to my birthplace…I paint about my father’s eagle, and then I also paint a significant site for me—my birthplace—which relates to emus.”
Muffler has exhibited widely throughout Australia and internationally, including: NGV Triennial 2023, National Gallery of Victoria, Naarm (Melbourne), and the 14th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea. In 2022, Muffler presented her largest solo painting to date for the exhibition Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Naarm (Melbourne). In 2022, Muffler was awarded the coveted National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards General Painting Award from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin. Muffler’s work is held in significant public and private collections throughout Australia and internationally, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, and the Fondation Opale, Switzerland.