Emily Kngwarreye Jewelleryby Emily Kame Kngwarreye
This gorgeous earring 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.
I, (Sabine Haider, Director of Central Art – Aboriginal Art Store) have always had a fascination with Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s artworks. I love the rich colours, thick brush strokes, and abstract design. I find her paintings can be stared at for hours on end, days at a time. There are many books, newspaper articles, and exhibition catalogues which share the life and art of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and these are quite easily sourced. It is difficult to share a biography that provides a snap shot of this remarkable woman’s life and art. Emily Kame Kngwarreye is by far the most collectable Aboriginal artist and certainly the most significant contemporary Aboriginal artist, having surpassed the famous and probably most well known Aboriginal artist, Albert Namitjira.
Emily was born in Alhakere country in the Utopia region of Central Australia in approximately 1910. Sadly, she passed away on 02 September 1996, in her late 80’s. As a young woman Emily worked as a stock rider at Utopia station and other surrounding stations. She grew up completely immersed in her culture, customs and community. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that Emily was even introduced to modern art creation, however, she immediately took to it like a duck to water, and in her late 60’s began to produce some remarkable artworks. In 1977 through to the late 1980’s Emily was heavily involved in the silk batik programs which were run in Utopia. These programs and the subsequent art that was produced received worldwide acclaim and lead to several overseas exhibitions.
In 1989, through her involvement with The Summer Project she began to experiment with acrylic paints on canvas. This was like opening Pandora’s Box and eventually allowed Emily to burst with creativity, design and colour. Her first paintings depicted Awelye, or more commonly known as women’s body paint designs and Yam Dreaming cycles. Emily depicted realistic details of these traditional and sacred ceremonies and cultural beliefs. Over the years and as her confidence grew she moved to a more minimalistic naturalistic approach and her art became highly abstract.
As a senior and well respected member of the Anmatyerre community, Emily was well versed in traditional song cycles, body painting and dance. She was the custodian of many important Dreamings, including, Kame, Pencil Yam, Mountain Devil Lizard, Grass Seed, Dingo, Awelye, Arlatyere, Ankerrthe, Ntange, Ankerre, Intekwe, and Anthewerle. It was because of her high standing within the community that she was responsible for these Dreamings and the teachings of her family and clan which was passed down to her. She was quoted to say “Whole lot, that’s all, whole lot, Awelye, Arlatyere, Ankerrthe, Ntange, Dingo, Ankerre, Intekwe, Anthwerle and Kame. That’s what I paint, whole lot” (Emily Kame Kngwarreye).
In her Yam Seed Dreamings, Emily would depict the Yam tracks with bright green creeping leaves, yellow flowers and white seeds. These and the underground tubers were a staple food source that the women still continue to dig for today. Usually when starting a new artwork, she would begin with this depiction. This Dreaming had special significance for her as her middle name was Kame – which signifies the yellow flower of the yam plant that grows above the ground.
Her country of Alhalkere was obviously important and significant for her. Many of her artworks are simply titled “My Country”. During her painting she would follow rituals which incorporated body painting techniques, her brushwork was rhythmic and she would often sing songs whilst painting, assuring them of the ritual coherence and giving them a place in the ceremonies for which she was responsible for.
In her later artworks she grew more ambitious and began to take a more holistic approach to her work. She attempted and successfully created depictions which showed the interconnections of her Dreamings and knowledge and the importance of these relationships. A large collection of these artworks are now on permanent display at Mbantua Gallery in Alice Springs and are titled “Earth’s Creation”.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye held her first solo exhibition in 1990 in her 80’s. It was her pure talent with colour and composition that her artworks quickly became recognised by art critics and led to the rapid uptake of her works. It is remarkable that in the decade prior to her passing that she was able to produce over 3,000 artworks and made a unique and undeniable impression on the art world. What she gave to the Aboriginal art industry is immeasurable and she paved the way of generations of strong, independent Aboriginal artists. She had a unique vision for connecting and changing the way that Western minds thought about Indigenous art and artists.
In 1992 Emily was awarded an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship which would have allowed her to retire however she never considered it a possibility as so many of her family and kin depended on her income. She chose instead to continue to paint until her passing. Her traditional cultural knowledge allowed her to draw upon thousands of years of sacred knowledge of the land, creation, and customs. A key indication of this is her strong and steady hand which is displayed in each of her artworks.
Emily’s artworks command the highest prices of any Aboriginal Indigenous artist. One of her “Earth’s Creation” sold in 2007 at auction for $1,056,000 – setting a new record for an Aboriginal artwork and new record for an artwork by an Australian woman. Her major painting from the final series first exhibited in 1997 and sold in 1998 for $1.1 million.
I didn’t know Emily Kame Kngwarrye personally, though I did often see her walking down the Todd Mall of Alice Springs and be fascinated by her. My memories of her are sweet, she wore a scarf on her head accompanied by a little handbag and she would be carrying rolls of paintings, sometimes far too many to carry by herself – yet she did. When I was first introduced to her paintings I was overwhelmed, this little lady created something I have never seen in a painting....pure beauty in its own right! I don’t have any paintings by Emily, but perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough. Until then I am only able to bring art lovers some special jewellery which have some of Emily's painting designs, these can be found in the Gift Store of our website.
Artist has Passed Away
c. 1910 - 02/09/1996
Out of respect for Aboriginal culture Central Art has removed the artist's photograph.
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Important copyright notice
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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