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Emily Kame Kngwarreye

DOB: c. 1910
Alhalkere, Soakage Bore, Utopia, Northern Territory
COMMUNITY: Alhalkere, Soakage Bore, Utopia, Northern Territory

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c. 1910–3 September 1996) is one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists. Emily was born at the beginning of the 20th century and grew up in Utopia, 230 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. Although Emily began to paint late in her life, she was a prolific artist who often worked at a pace that belied her advanced age. It is estimated that she produced over 3,000 paintings in the course of her eight-year painting career – an average of one painting per day. For virtually two-thirds of her life she had only sporadic contact with the outside world. It was not until she was about 80 that she became, almost overnight, an artist of international standing.


Her remarkable work was inspired by her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, and her lifelong custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan Country, Alhalkere. It was in Alhalkere that the essence of her being resided, it was her Dreaming that was the source of the creative power, of her knowledge. So profound was her identification with Alhalkere that it infused her life and her belief system, and governed her kinship relations and connections with other people. Alhalkere was the source of her paintings – her genius loci. Even physically, Emily’s pierced nose bore homage to the ancestor Alhalkere, a pierced rock standing on the Country of the same name.


Alhalkere was the place and the law that she continually re-created in her art. Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s visions of Alhalkere are her personal cultural legacy to the world. Whenever Emily was asked to explain her paintings, regardless of whether the images were a shimmering veil of dots, a field of ‘dump dump’ dots, raw stripes seared across the surface or elegant black lines, her answer was always the same: "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, interview with Rodney Gooch, translated by Kathleen Petyarre


The enactment of these strong cultural connections to her community and Country through kinship ties, ancestral history and law was an everyday practice that informed her art, making her life and art inseparable. By extension, an exhibition of her work, no matter how large or small, is always the same story, in which the whole is about the totality of her existence expressed as her Dreamings in all their manifestations.


It is possible to find in Emily’s work visual links with almost every phase of Western modernism and with aspects of Japanese artistic practices. That she knew virtually nothing of the art world beyond Utopia and drew her energy, creativity and inspiration from a small patch of country in the centre of the Australian outback is just one of the many radical challenges her art poses.


Source: National Museum of Australia

Emily Kame Kngwarreye.jpg

Title: Untitled

Artist: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Acrylic on canvas

Painted: 1995

Size: 95cm x 84cm approximately

Catalogue number: Uncatalogued

Price: POA

Provenance: Mbantua > Private Collection

Location: Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

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