Art + Soul: Dreams and Nightmares – Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Emily Kame Kngwarreye (approximately 1910–1996) was an Anmatyerre artist and elder. She is one of Australia's most important contemporary artists.
She began painting when she was 79 years old having already worked with sand, ceremonial body painting (Awelye), song, ceremony and batik designs on silk. Over a period of eight years she went on to create more than 3,000 individual paintings. In 2007, Kngwarreye's Earth's Creation became the first work by a female Australian artist and the first Aboriginal artwork to be sold for more than one million dollars.
Although she spent her adult life in Utopia in the Northern Territory, her clan Country was Alhalkere. Her Dreaming and the Law from this Country was the source of her creative work and her knowledge. Whenever she was asked to explain her paintings she would describe her work as 'whole lot', regardless of the style:
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.
In this clip from the documentary Art + Soul: Dreams and Nightmares, Kngwarreye paints the roots of the kam, or pencil yam. She is named after 'Kam', saying 'I am kam now'. Art curator Hetti Perkins says her batik work shows all the hallmarks of her later work with paint, showing a 'gestural, spontaneous and even accidental freedom of expression'.
Linguist Jenny Green, who knew and worked with Kngwarreye, says that she believed that the painting had helped protect her country from threats such as uranium mining. Green says Kngwarreye 'felt that by exercising this right to make images related to that place, perhaps in the same way as you would sing the songs or do the ceremonies, that was being a good citizen in her country terms – being a good custodian. She thought that one of the reasons that her work was so popular was because it was from that country. She thought that was one of the keys to the extraordinary success that she had.'
Notes by Beth Taylor