Jimmy Baker was born over ninety years ago, along the Kalaya Tjukurrpa (Emu Dreaming) track in the Western Desert at a rockhole called Malumpa, a location close to the present-day community of Kanpi in north-west South Australia. He is one of the most senior and highly respected men in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.
His father, Tjuwintjara, was also an important cultural figure renowned for his survival skills and profound knowledge. Tjuwintjara acted as a guide for T. G. H Strehlow and Charles Duguid on their expedition to the Petermann Ranges in the far south-western corner of the Northern Territory, after encountering them at Piltati Rockhole in 1939, as Duguid described in his autobiography, Doctor and the Aborigines (published in 1972).
Jimmy Baker married Nyinmungka during the late 1930s and they had three daughters and a son. He has a younger brother, Toby Ginger Baker, as well as a sister, Tjuwilya, and his nephew Douglas married Maringka, who is also an artist.
Baker worked as a shearer on the mission at Ernabella in the Musgrave Ranges, also repairing fences, sinking bores and mustering livestock. Bob Capp, a teacher in the Lands in the 1960s, remembers him as a great storyteller who ‘would have people in peals of laughter as he embellished stories’. He was subsequently instrumental in encouraging key family members to return to their home country at Kanpi.
From an early age Baker was aware that he had special powers. As a highly respected ngangkari (healer), he has travelled extensively throughout South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, applying his traditional knowledge and skills. He is also an exceptional craftsman who is able to create traditional implements of the highest standard. Baker began painting in 2004 and has since produced a relatively small body of work. He is one of a handful of artists attached to Tjungu Palya, a community-based art centre at Nyapari.
Baker is a strong law man who is custodian of many stories befitting his seniority, including Kipara(Bush Turkey), Kalaya(Emu), Piltati (Sacred Rockhole Site) and Wanampi Kutjara (Two Serpent Men’s Creation Story). His intimate cultural knowledge is inextricably linked to his ngangkari status. His work depicts the cultural landscape, his Tjukurrpa, with authority and integrity, acting as a bridge toward mutual respect and understanding. Like other senior men he paints stories in a way that clearly defines significant sites or paths etched in the landscape by ancestral beings. These sites are multi-layered, with physical, geographical, spiritual and ceremonial connotations.
Jimmy Baker’s work encapsulates the essence of culture, country and Indigenous pride. He has a rare artistic gift and is one of the most important artists from the central and Western Desert region. His paintings are now represented in major public and private collections in Australia.