Contextual focus point: Emily Kame Kngwarreye


“Whole lot, that’s whole lot, Awelye (my Dreaming), Arlatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seed), Tingu (Dreamtime pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (favourite food of emus, a small plant), Atnwerle (green bean), and Kame (yam seed). That’s what I paint, whole lot. ” 1990  when asked to explain about her work and what she paints; Emily Kame Kngwarreye (b. about 1910 -d. 1996)

Watching her work I had a feeling of how much she connected to each piece and the meaning that was put into it. She is quite a remarkable person – starting to paint in her later years she managed to reach across her lands into the world and touch many with her art.

She grew up  in a remote desert area known as Utopia, hundreds of kilometres away from the modern world and had no formal art education.  She drew inspiration from the surrounding environment and local history, holy places/objects and ancestral history. It is possible to say she captured the air and life around her in the paintings she produced. Her work has it’s roots in traditional ceremonial art and also works that were produced for everyday purposes such as decorations, clothing patterns, body painting setc.

While watching some of the YouTube clips I’ve noticed how immersed she was in her work and totally connected to the earth, air and the story she was portraying. She used canvass, wood, silk and anything available . A lot of her work has quite a large size , which is quite impressive, providing that she was quite prolific and during 8 years has painted almost 3000 works sometimes producing on a daily basis.

It is possible to find similarities in her work and works of impressionists, expressionists and contemporary abstractions – of course she had no visual interactions with those movements during her upbringing. This is one of the reasons she took the art world by storm almost overnight – raw talent, visual euphoria and so in line with the time.

In 1977 Emily was introduced to the Batik-making through a government funded educational program this is where the materials she used later entered her life.
Batik-making is introduced to women in Utopia as part of an extended government-funded education program. This is the beginning of Emily’s use of introduced materials in her art. In 1988-89 she started using acrylics on canvass while working with  Utopian women’s Batic group on a project for a CAAMA shop. This is when her first Painting on canvass was completed and instantly attracted attention, from here  demand and success of her work escalates.

Emu woman, 1988-89, 92x61cm, synthetic polymer on canvass

Image source:

In a lot of her she uses repetitive lines, dots, designs that “mimic” ceremonial body paintings – but in a innovative and free style. She used gesture and whole body movement , as if dancing, or sat on the ground literally connected to the work that was painted. She captured the movement, traditions, dreams and life she knew and shared it with the world.

Alalgura – my country in bloom,1992; 122x303x5cm; synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Image source:

Above work, she uses dotted patterns and colours to represent the fertility of her country and how it spring into life after hot summer storms, when seeds swirl in the air and begin a new life in a new place.

She celebrated and expressed nature through her paintings where she tried to portray her Aboriginal Dreaming – traditional stories, spiritual beliefs of her ancestors and relationship her people have with the land they live in.

I found it quite remarkable how Her style of working have changed,  – she explored colour, pattern, line, drawing and application. From minute dots representing seeds, yams to expressive body painting pattern that women have for the ceremonies and later going towards lines or just  pure colour patterns, small dots to large dots, straight lines to curved patterns and vise versa.  Below is a small video showing some of her works and story about her career/life




Thinking about the importance of  place and belonging in terms of my own work I feel that inevitably my life experience adds to the direction i take.  We have moved a few times and lived in different countries – this has some advantages , as it opens the horizon and allowed me to experience variety of cultures, religions and environments. The sense of place play a significant part in my life – at the moment most of my inspiration comes directly from where i live, but i do find myself digging into my past more often than i realised.





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