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Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Untitled (Awelye)  1995

acylic on paper

77 × 52cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program in memory of Rodney Gooch, 2011

2011.22

About the Artwork

These works on paper by Emily Kame Kngwarreye are drawn from the traditional body painting used in women’s ceremonies, Awelye. Awelye is the word used to describe the actual painted designs on the body, but it also has a broader meaning referring to the content of a ceremony and the associated body of knowledge. Thus these simple lines are much more than stylised body paint; there other references, including the lines left in the sand after dance and the cuts made in the upper arm as a sign of sorrow.

The enduring subject of Kngwarreye’s oeuvre is her country Alhalkere. Kngwarreye famously stated that her paintings contained the essence of Alhakere, ‘whole lot’ as she said. This included the 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), which she of course was the embodiment.

Kngwarreye’s work is distinguished by its vitality, boldness and innovation. She fearlessly embraced style shifts and the Awelye paintings were a great challenge to many that had embraced her dots and florettes. She began painting late in life like many indigenous artists but this did not stop her producing a significant body of work, from her remote home at Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs.
Updated and approved August 2016.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

– About the artist

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.

Learn more
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