Menzies Art Brands



The genesis of Emily Kame Kngwarreyes painting lies in a range of experiences and custodial obligations she shared with other women in caring for Country and presiding over the transference of law one grows up the land as one grows up children.1 Her genius, however, stems from individuation in her visual expressions of her Country Alalgura (Alhalkere), situated near Soakage Bore, Utopia, northeast of Alice Springs and awelye (womens law ceremonies in Anmatyerre).

Often declared as the whole lot, Kngwarreyes paintings are a tangible representation of her interconnectedness with Country. This concept of self was ever-present in her work, irrespective of styles and periods. In Kngwarreyes visual language, paintings are glorious manifestations of a metaphysical trinity; Country, awelye, and self a fusion evident in her naming: kame (kam), is the seed of the wild pencil yam atnulare (Vigna lanceolata) that grows across Alalgura (Alhalkere).

Of My Country, Alalgura I is from a suite of Alalgura commissions for Delmore Gallery in 1992, described by Janet Holt as the artists famous early period, in which she witnessed Kngwarreyes paintings become looser and executed with aplomb and assurance.2 Kngwarreyes energetic explorations of her countrys life cycles, and, the pencil yam atnulare and wild potato anaroolya (also referenced as a yam), has resulted in an extraordinary body of sublime and celebrated work. Of My Country, Alalgura I, painted in spring 1992, is a striking example of the artists organic uninhibitedness;3 what has become seen as her fluidity as structure.4

Of My Country, Alalgura I also displays important iconographic traits: trailing lines of multi-coloured dot-work connecting the burgeoning yam (bottom right) across Country in seasonal change. In Kngwarreyes painterly lexicon, yellow has been linked to the yams daisy flower, as well as various levels of plant maturity. The warm tones mixed from reds and yellows evoke dry time, while Kngwarreye joyfully referred to the flush of new growth that appears across Country after rain most prominent in the present work top left as green time.5

Kngwarreye is acclaimed within academic expositions of representational landscape painting as well as abstract art. In assessing Kngwarreye as an abstractionist painter, Terry Smith fixes on colour in the period 199093 as key to her artistic motivation and innovation.6

While western modernism usually compartmentalises genres, philosophical thinking about colour can collapse such divergent paradigms, and illuminate Kngwarreyes practice. Colour has been shown to affect the nervous system before being perceived cognitively and has been called an interaction between the body and the world.7 Kngwarreyes rendering of the colours of Country rejoices in this nexus; her paintings are testaments to the phenomenon of mobilizing a realm of intelligibility that produced the Aboriginal world.8

Kngwarreyes paintings are inextricably linked with the metaphysical realm of awelye. In the Alalgura works of 1992, underlying delicate tracks of the yam are exposed with degrees of nuance through sumptuous, layered fields of dotted colour; the resulting textural matrix being a veritable atlas of custodial references. Kngwarreyes painting is both a celebratory expression of the seasonal maturation of the yam and a work of reverence: the yams life cycle is central to awelye, and Kngwarreyes colours of Of My Country, Alalgura I arouses and animates that sacred synchronicity.

Kngwarreyes significance was acknowledged early with the prestigious Australian Artists Creative Fellowship award in 1992. Her work has rightfully starred in several international exhibitions of Australian art since, including the Venice Biennale in 1997, and her exceptional talent showcased in two solo retrospective exhibitions, most recently Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, which toured Japan in 2008. Her position within Australias pantheon of great painters is assured.


1. Bell, D., Person and Place: Making Meaning of the Art of Australian Indigenous Women, Feminist Studies, Volume: 28, Issue 1, 2002, p. 103
2. Holt, J., in Isaacs, J. et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 153
3. For an in-depth essay on the development of this aspect of her oeuvre, see Margo Neale, Two worlds: One Vision, in Emily Kngwarreye: Alhalkere Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1998, p. 23-31
4. Smith, T., Kngwarreye Woman Abstract Painter, in Isaacs et al op.cit., p. 31
5. Holt provides a more detailed account of the artists choice of colour application and the use of yam lines in painting Country across the seasons in her essay, Emily Kame Kngwarreye at Delmore Downs 1989-1996, in Isaacs et al , op.cit., pp. 152-54
6. Smith, op.cit., pp. 2442
7. Ferrell, R., Sacred Exchanges: Images in Global Context, Columbia University Press, New York, 2012, p. 25
8. Ibid., p. 15

Jane Raffan
Jane Raffan is an accredited valuer under the Commonwealth Governments Cultural Gifts Program. Her arts consultancy encompasses curatorial services, collection management, and a broad range of humanities-based research and writing.

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