Emily Kngwarreye Jewelleryby Emily Kame Kngwarreye
This gorgeous Pendant necklace features the yam tracks by the famous Emily Kame Kngwarreye.
The yam plant was an important source of food for the Aboriginal people of the desert. Emily painted many works on this theme; often her first actions at the start of a painting were to put down the yam tracking lines. This plant was especially significant for her: her middle name Kame means the yellow flower of the yam that grows above the ground. She described her paintings as having meaning based on all the aspects of the community's life, including the yam plants.
- Emily Kame Kngwarreye
"My dreaming, pencil yam, mountain devil lizard, grass seed, dingo, emu, small plant emu food, green bean and yam seed”
Emily Kngwarreye was born at Alhalkere in 1910 and raised in her traditional Anmatyerre culture. Her first contact with Europeans was in 1919. She took up painting in her late 70s while working with the Utopia Women's Batik group in 1977 and was in her 80s when she exhibited her first solo show at Coventry Gallery in 1990. Her pure talent with colour and composition was quickly recognised and the attention of critics and dealers led to a rapid uptake of her works.
While it is often stated that Emily began painting late in life, it is important to remember that she had a lifetime of religious and artistic activity within her traditional culture and many thousands of years of cultural knowledge upon which to draw. The early sureness of her hand was undoubtedly a result of intuitive brilliance, but also reflects a clarity and depth of knowledge, steeped in the traditional Anmatyerre art practices of sand and body painting.
Emily also had a unique and very personal vision of connection which in its realisation was capable of crossing cultural territories, changing the way that Western minds thought about Indigenous art and artists. In the book Emily Kame Kngwarreye: the Person and her Paintings (Dacou Aboriginal Gallery, Port Melbourne, 2009), her niece and fellow artist Barbara Weir spoke about how Emily worked:
“She dipped that one brush into all different colours. She had one brush, then she’d put it into another colour, then dip that same brush to another colour and it all came out like this. She alternated hands in a single painting, first her left hand, then the right. Her left hand was the strongest. She often sung to the painting while painting it, depending on how she felt when she was painting, who was there, whether she had an interest” - Barbara Weir.
Emily’s work walked the line between personal genius and member of a community to which all stories belonged. The demand for her work soon led to high prices which placed her in the role of provider in her community, where resources were traditionally shared. In 1992 she was awarded an Australian Artist's Creative Fellowship which could have allowed her to retire. However it was never a possibility for a woman upon whom so many depended, and she continued to paint until her death.
Emily Kngwarreye painted for Yam Seed Dreaming, and yam tracks featured strongly in her works. The perennial atnwelarr (yam plant) has bright green creeping leaves, yellow flowers and white seeds, and these and the underground tuber are a staple food that the women still dig for and collect at Utopia. The first thing Emily did in beginning a painting was often to put down the yam track lines, which held special significance for her as her middle name, Kame, signifies the yellow flower of the yam plant that grows above the ground.
Emily also painted for the many other dreamings mentioned above. She had a deep spiritual connection to her land at Alhalkere and many of her paintings are simply entitled ‘My Country.’ Ritual was important to her work which incorporated body painting techniques. Her brushwork was rhythmic and she often sang soft rhythmic songs while painting, assuring them of ritual coherence and giving them a place in the increase ceremonies for which she would have been responsible.
As much as it lived and breathed within these ancient traditions, Emily’s body of work is very much a part of contemporary art. Her increasingly abstracted compositions built their own explorations of colour and form which engaged with, and broadened, both these worlds, and lead to comparisons with Monet and Jackson Pollock.
Her later canvases grew more ambitious as she recognised the importance of the diplomatic role which had been thrust upon her with her fame. She began to take a more holistic approach to her work and instead of painting one stream of her knowledge she attempted to represent the interconnectedness of all the dreamings related to her land at Alhalkere. This universal approach led to works such as the epic ‘Earths Creation,’ now on permanent display at Mbantua gallery in Alice Springs.
Emily’s paintings now command the highest prices of any Indigenous artist.
‘Earth’s Creation’ sold at auction in 2007 for $1,056,000, setting a new record for an Aboriginal artwork and a new record for an artwork by an Australian woman. Her major painting from the Final Series first exhibited in 1997 sold in 2008 for $1,100,000. Her work has toured the world and been represented at the Venice biennale.
In 1998 a retrospective of her paintings was launched at the Art Gallery of Queensland, curated by Margo Neale. The retrospective travelled to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of Victoria and the National Art Gallery. In February 2008 an expanded exhibition toured to Japan, the largest solo exhibition of an Australian artist to tour overseas.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye died on 2 September 1996. In less than a decade, she produced over 3,000 paintings and made a unique and indelible mark on the art world. Her legacy is immeasurable, both to her community where she has paved the way for entire generations of strong, independent artists, and to the wider world, where she has forged such deep interest and provided glimpses into the breadth and depth of Aboriginal culture. Her importance in both these contexts cannot be overestimated.
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The Copyright of all images and documentation remains with Sabine Haider. The Australian Copyright Act protects all artists from unauthorised copying by giving control over original works of art to the artist by law. However depending on the use proposed, Sabine Haider from Central Art – Aboriginal Art Store can facilitate reproduction of works with the permission of the artist as we have developed close relationships over the years with many individual painters and craftspeople.
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