Contextual Focus Point: Emily Kame Kngwarreye.


Emily Kame Kngwarreye was an indigenous Australian born at the beginning of the 20th Century, she was brought up in a remote area of Australia’s Northern Territory known then as Alhalkere, which is known as Utopia in present day.

Kngwarreye is well known for being one of the most significant contemporary artists in Australia with her producing around 3000 paintings, completed on canvas, paper and fabrics. “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. [1]”

This is an extraordinary amount, especially when it comes to the fact that Kngwarreye only started painting in her late seventies and her artistic career only lasted eight years, meaning that Kngwarreye on average, painted one painting every day during this time frame. Not only is Kngwarreye well known in Australia for her art but she is also known internationally as well.

Batik making, which is where wax is applied to fabric in patterns using lines and dots, then the fabric is dyed in order to finish the effect, was introduced to Kngwarreye as part of an education programme funded by the government in 1977. A year later Kngwarreye created the Utopia women’s Batik group and once they were introduced to acrylic paint and canvas around ten years later, Kngwarreye created her first canvas painting known as “Emu Woman”.

Kngwarreye took her inspiration that came from Batik making and applied this to her canvas paintings. This meant the application of paint on large canvas spread on the ground, where she could sit next to it and become deeply involved in her artwork and the land. Kngwarreye used dots and fragmented lines in repetition in order to represent natural elements such as yam seeds and the lines were inspired by the artwork she created on indigenous women’s bodies. Some of Kngwarreye paintings have been compared to Claude Monet such as her “Earth’s Creation” painting containing similarities to that of his “Water Lilly” series, which is surprising considering she wasn’t knowledgeable of his work.

Her many paintings are based on her surrounding environment such as when it is dry season her paintings consist of rustic colours and when it is after the rain season, she applied greens to her paintings, yellows were also used to represent wild fire. Kngwarreye did use more vibrant colours during 1992-1994 such as electric blue and hot pinks. Not only did Kngwarreye use her environment as inspiration but also her rich cultural heritage as well, with her being an elder and performer of women’s ceremony it was equally important to bring forth her knowledge of this in to her work.

Kngwarreye’s ability to bring forth identity, her cultural heritage and a sense of belonging are part of the reasons that Kngwarreye became so popular and successful, in my opinion. Kngwarreye is so deeply connected to her work and her home that they show a sense of raw truthfulness and allows the viewer to enter her world through her art. One such painting is that of “Emu Woman” that I previously mentioned which gives off a sense of raw energy, Kngwarreye has used earth colours in a perfect balance showing her love of colour, to represent the rich culture and desert land as well as the dots being a way of connecting the land to people, with symbols telling of women’s stories being partially concealed within.

Artwork, 'Emu Woman' 1988-89
Emu Woman by Emily Kame Kngwarreye painted in 1988-89.

This makes me think about my own religion and as to whether I wish to introduce this into my own work, I may delve deeper into this and see where I end up.





Article title: Emily Kngwarreye paintings for sale | Emily Kame Kngwarreye artworks
Website title: Delmore Gallery
Article title: Emily Kame Kngwarreye | National Museum of Australia
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Website title: Women’s History Network
Article title: Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Website title: YouTube

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