Emily Kam KNGWARRAY, No title Enlarge 1 /1

Emily Kam KNGWARRAY

Anmatyerr people

Australia 1908 /1912 – 1996

No title 1981 Place made: Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: textiles, batik on cotton

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 174.0 h x 110.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.3130
Image rights: © Emily Kam Kngwarray. Licensed by Viscopy

In the late 1970s Emily Kam Kngwarray learnt the technique of batik dyeing at an adult education program that was conducted for the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr women on Utopia Station. The classes were organised by Jenny Green and Julia Murray, and facilitated by Suzanne Bryce and Yipati Kuyata, a Pitjantjatjara women from Ernabella, and before long the momentum built for the Aboriginal women at Utopia to generate an income from the sale of their silk and cotton batiks. In 1978 they established the Utopia Women’s Batik Group as a cooperative to promote their work.

In 1979, as the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr landowners commenced what proved to be a successful land claim to the Utopia pastoral lease, the women used their batiks, which depicted aspects of their traditional homelands, as evidence of their ownership in support of the claim. This is the first known case in which silk batiks were put forward by claimants to verify their relationship and connectedness to country.

The summer of 1988–89 saw many of the women artists begin to paint on canvas. For Kngwarray, with decades of experience creating paintings in the ceremonial context, the transition from silk batik to acrylic painting on canvas was quite seamless. Nonetheless, her earlier batiks such as this—one of her earliest works—are of interest not only in their own right, but also because they carry the lexicon of marks and designs that Kngwarray was to employ through the various stages of her development as a painter. Here, for example, we see the loose matrix or grid pattern, based on the spread of the roots of the yam plant, that was to become the underlying compositional structure of many of her early paintings, and was the dominant motif in some of her later work. The fields and lines of dots that feature in many of her paintings are also evident here, as are the parallel lines of awelye, or women’s ceremonial body painting designs. The free-flowing nature of applying wax to the cloth with a canting or wax pen encouraged in Kngwarray a freedom of expression in applying paint to canvas, as can be seen especially in her larger gestural paintings.

Franchesca Cubillo


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

In the late 1970s Emily Kam Kngwarray learnt the technique of batik dyeing and in 1978 participated in the establishment of the Utopia Women’s Batik Group.

In 1979 the Anmatyerr and Alyawarr landowners opened what proved to be a successful land claim to the Utopia pastoral lease in the Northern Territory. In support of the claim, the women used their batiks depicting aspects of their traditional homelands as evidence of their ownership. This is the first known case in which silk batiks were put forward by claimants to verify their relationship and connectedness to country.

The summer of 1988–89 saw many of the women artists begin to paint on canvas. For Kngwarray, with decades of experience creating ceremonial body and ground designs, the transition from silk batik to acrylic painting on canvas was seamless. Nonetheless her batiks, such as this example on cotton—one of her earliest works—are of interest not only in their own right, but also because they carry the lexicon of marks and designs that Kngwarray was to employ through the various stages of her development as a painter. Here we see the loose matrix or grid pattern, based on the spread of the roots of the yam plant, that was to become the underlying compositional structure of many of her early paintings and was the dominant motif in some of her later work. The fields and lines of dots that also feature in her paintings are evident here, as are the parallel lines of awely, or women’s ceremonial body painting designs.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014