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Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming)

Photo: Paul Macapia

Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming)

1995

Emily Kame Kngwarray

Australian Aboriginal, Anmatyerr People, Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, ca. 1910 - 1996

Through this painting, we are transported to the center of Australia, to a flat, windswept settlement where outsiders might see only an expanse of red dirt. Our guide is an eighty-five-year-old woman whose eyes are full of observations and who has years of experience painting bodies for ceremonies. Emily Kame Kngwarreye discovered the lush fluidity of acrylics in 1988, launching her extraordinarily prolific career that is full of bravado in  handling  paint.  The swirling network in this painting directs us underground to explore a maze of roots produced by an anooralya, the name of the yam plant whose vigorous growth is evident here. Kngwarreye was a custodian of knowledge of this resourceful plant.
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
59 13/16 x 48 1/16 in. (152 x 122 cm)
Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan
2000.157
Provenance: Commissioned by Delmore Gallery, sold to Gondwana and purchased by Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan from Gondwana Gallery in 1996
Photo: Paul Macapia
location
Not currently on view

This is my country, this is me.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Environmental Abstractions

Autumn Boughs, 1969, Maria Frank Abrams, 70.29
Violet Flapper, 1975, Alden Mason, 75.80
Exuberant Winds, 1976, Kenneth Callahan, 77.14
Antila, 1968, Dan Christensen, 78.25
Night and Day, 1956, Sam Francis, 91.249
Secret Blood, 1987, Ken Kelly, 93.101
Distraction, 1999, Karin Davie, 2002.13
Between Space and Time, 1965, Mark Tobey, 87.23

A Visit to Utopia

Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Emily Kame Kngwarreye's tombstone, Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
Utopia Region, Central Australia

Honoring a Yam Dreaming

Kame, Emily's middle name, means "yam seed."  After rains, yam seeds emerge as large edible tubers that can extend for long distances underground.  Eventually the yams begin to push up through the dry, hard earth.  Evidence of their growth is first seen as elongated cracks hitting the earth's surface. Using wooden digging sticks, women free the yams from the earth. A prized "bush tucker" food, the yams are considered a sweet and juicy delicacy.  As a custodian of the yam, Emily conducted singing and dancing ceremonies to help replenish the species. 
Vigna lanceolata var. filiformis (pencil yam), the bush tucker food referred to in Aboriginal paintings
Photo: J. Wrigley
Courtesy Australian National Botanic Gardens

From Indigenous to International

By visual analysis alone, many recent Australian Aboriginal paintings could be mistaken for late abstract expressionist canvases: intriguing as compositions and making impressive use of gesture. Yet, first impressions can be revised when titles are considered. As with Emily Kngwarreye's dedication to yam dreamings, other titles speak of the journeys of an emu, or a mountain devil lizard or a roaming ancestor. A distant origin is suggested and a worldview in which, as Australian Aboriginal curator, Djon Mundine, has described it, "Every person, place, constellation, wind, cloud, plant, animal, fish, clan, dance and song in between has a value."

For thousands of years, Aboriginal painting appeared primarily on the human body, on the ground, on trees or rock walls or on ceremonial objects. Such art conveyed sacred laws derived from Dreamings, when ancestral beings animated the world. This artistic legacy is the longest continuing artistic tradition on Earth, twice as old as the cave paintings of Lascaux.

In the latest generation, Australian Aboriginal artists have contributed significantly to world art by adapting their knowledge and applying it to painted canvases. These paintings offer a new look at life on the vast stretches of the Australian continent. It also brings viewers closer to a coded system of beliefs, where some of the smallest creatures might have the biggest stories, as seen in paintings by other Utopian artists. This new episode in art history also explores the parameters of abstraction in a way that can be compared to other paintings in SAM's collection.
Utopia Region, Central Australia
Photo: Jake Warga
© Jake Warga, 2006

The Women of Utopia

Photo: Susan Cole
Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming—Winter Storm, 1999, Kathleen Petyarre
Kathleen and Gloria Petyarre are just two of the many artists coming from the Utopia station. Emily Kngwarreye was their aunt, and although a family resemblance is evident in their painting conventions, each has come up with a distinctive style. In addition, each is a custodian of sacred sites and stories that their art is dedicated to.

Kathleen Petyarre creates patiently systematic paintings that trace the journey of a lizard that valiantly contends with sand and hail, heat and dust, and never seems to give up. Here his tendency not to take a direct route is witnessed, as are the conditions he faces in his travels. Swirling dust storms surround the central site that is associated with green pea seeds, the lizard's favorite food.
Leaves, 2002, Gloria Tamerre Petyarre
Enormous canvases filled with flowing patterns, Gloria Petyarre's paintings often call attention to the leaves of a native tree with medicinal properties that grows abundantly in Utopia. Women have sorted through such leaves for countless generations. Ground leaves provide a remedy for coughs, colds and flus. In the form of a paste, the leaves are applied to the skin to cure rashes, boils and scabies.

Media

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128
Hetti Perkins, Former Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, talks about "Emily-mania"

Resources

Exhibition HistoryWashington, D.C., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Dreaming Their Way: Aboriginal Australian Women Painters, June 30 - Dec. 10, 2006.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection, May 31 - Sept. 12, 2012 (Nashville, Tenessee, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, June 23 - Oct. 15, 2017; Madison, Wisconsin, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Jan. 26 - Apr. 22, 2018; Austin, Texas, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, June 3 - Sept. 9, 2018; Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Audain Art Museum, Oct. 5, 2018 - Jan. 28, 2019). Text by Pamela McClusky, Wally Caruana, Lisa Graziose Corrin, and Stephen Gilchrist. Cat. no. 12, pp. 76-77, reproduced.
Published ReferencesIshikawa, Chiyo et al., Seattle Art Museum Downtown, Seattle, Washington: Seattle Art Museum, 2007; reproduced p. 41.

Ishikawa, Chiyo, ed., A Community of Collectors: 75th Anniversary Gifts to the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle. Washington: Seattle Art Museum, 2007; reproduced p. 77.

Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007; pp. 38-39, reproduced p. 38.

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

Learn more about Equity at SAM