synthetic polymer paint on canvas, framed
5 parts: 121 × 90.8 cm each
Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ann Lewis AO, 2009
The five works in Untitled (Body Painting Series) relate to Kngwarreye’s Awelye. The marks Kngwarreye has made on the canvas mirror the physical expression of Awelye, where body paint is painted onto the skin for ceremonial purposes. This expression releases the spiritual power that maintains nature’s fertility and hardiness. Awelye also has a broader meaning that describes the range of content of a ceremony and a body of knowledge. Thus these simple lines are much more than just stylised body paint. In fact, there are many other references, including the lines left behind in the sand and cuts made in the upper arm, as a sign of sorrow after a death.
Kngwarreye started painting late in life. During an eight-year period from 1988 until 1996, she produced a significant body of work. Ceremony is an important theme in Kngwarreye’s paintings, in particular women’s body designs and markings that were fluidly composed onto canvas. Other stories Kngwarreye depicted were Arlatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seed), Tingu (a Dreamtime pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (a favourite food of emus, a small plant), Atnwerle (green bean) and Kame (yam seed pod.
Born c.1910, Alhalkere (Soakage Bore), Northern Territory. Utopia people, Arandic ‘skin’ moiety, Anmatyerre language. Died 1996, Alhalkere (Soakage Bore), Northern Territory.
In a short but brilliant career, Emily Kame Kngwarreye carved out a deserved reputation as one of Australia’s most important artists. Her unique art encompasses the breadth, substance, history and meaning of her precious land, which was her enduring subject.
Kngwarreye had no formal art education but learned the mark making and composition of the Anmatyerre tradition in which she was raised. Her first foray into art in western media was through batik in the late 1970s, but it was when she began painting on canvas in 1988 that she found her true medium. Over the next eight years she produced an outstanding body of work that drew on the history, stories, geography, vegetation and substance of her land.
Kngwarreye’s work is included in public, corporate and private collections. In 1997 she represented Australia posthumously at the Venice Biennale, and in 1997 the Queensland Art Gallery staged a major retrospective of her work that travelled throughout Australia. In 2011 a second major survey travelled from the National Museum in Canberra to Osaka and Tokyo, Japan.