Emily Kame Kngwarreye 1910-1996
When Emily Kame Kngwarreye first began to paint, she became almost an overnight sensation. Here was a woman who had lived most of her life in remote country, having little to do with the modern world. She began painting when she was nearly 80, and her story quickly became widely known throughout the world.
Aboriginal land rights were granted in the Northern Territory in 1976, and specifically to the traditional lands of Emily’s mob in 1979. She moved back to Country, Alhalkere (called Utopia by white settlers), after having worked on pastoral properties from the 1930s and 40s. She became a founding member of Utopia Women’s Batik Group after the art form had been introduced to the local women. This Group completed a special project in 1988 comprising 88 silk batiks which were purchased by the Holmes à Court Collection in Perth. This led to the group expanding their talents to acrylic paints on canvas. Emily’s first effort ‘Emu Woman’ immediately drew the eye of collectors and the demand for her works became voracious for the rest of her life.
Emily painted in a way that always reflected her close affinity with Country. It inspired her to represent it as a place of spiritual history and Dreaming including all the plants and animals native to Alhalkere. The paintings represented not only the physical landscape, but the spiritual connection she had with the land. When describing her creations, she replied ‘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.’ Emily Kame Kngwarreye, in an interview with Rodney Gooch, translated by Kathleen Petyarre, from National Museum of Australia website www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/utopia/emily-kame-kngwarreye.