Awelye (Women's Ceremony) Art


Awelye is the Anmatyerre word for women's ceremonies. Awelye also refers specifically to the designs applied to a women's body as part of a ceremony.

The Awelye is performed by Aboriginal women to recall their ancestors, to show respect for their country and to demonstrate their responsibility for the wellbeing of their community.

Since it reflects women's role as the nurturer the Awelye makes connections with the fertility of the land and a celebration of the aboriginal food it provides. It is women's business and is never done in the presence of men.

The Awelye ceremony begins with the women painting each others' bodies in designs relating to a particular women's Dreaming and in accordance with their skin name and tribal hierarchy. The Awelye designs represent a range of Dreamings including animals and plants, healing and law.

The designs are painted on the chest and shoulders using powders ground from ochre, charcoal and ash. It is applied with a flat stick with padding or with fingers in raw linear and curved lines. This is a meditative and sensual experience.

The act of decorating the body transforms the individual and changes their identity. During the painting which can take up to three hours, the women chant their Dreaming. The final part of the ceremony is when the women dance and chant.

Central Art has a wide collection of Awelye paintings from the women in Utopia including the prominent artist Ada Bird Petyarre. She was one of the first to paint the Awelye and her bold strong paintings remain iconic Awelye art.

Minnie Pwerle's work combines the traditional Awelye and the bush melon seeds conveying her connection with her country and her Dreaming. The linear pattern represents the designs painted on the top half of a women's body.

Other aboriginal artists who paint Awelye include Abie Loy Kemarre, Colleen Wallace Nungari, Narpula Scobie Napurrula, Jennifer Purvis Kngwarreye. The Petyarre sisters Violet Petyarre and Myrtle Petyarre

paint Awelye associated with the Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (Arnkerrth).

Aboriginal women have been applying body paint for thousands of years and Awelye could claim to be one of the oldest living art forms in the world.

Awelye (alternative spelling is Awely and Alywarr) is still practiced today.

Aboriginal word glossary