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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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Emily Kam KNGWARRAY

Anmatyerr people

Australia 1908 /1912 – 1996

Ntange Dreaming 1989 Place made: Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Primary Insc: "1190" in pencil on cross-member of stretcher and a Woollahra Art Removal sticker

Dimensions: 135.0 h x 122.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1928
Image rights: © Emily Kam Kngwarray. Licensed by Viscopy

MORE DETAIL

  • Emily Kam Kngwarray is regarded as a phenomenon in Australian art. She worked with immense speed and assurance for an elderly woman who, it is popularly believed, started painting in her seventies—moving from batiks to acrylic on canvas in 1988. In a brief eight-year painting career, Kngwarray produced an extraordinary number of canvases, reputed to be as many as 3000—an average of a canvas a day. To the art world, both her output and her seemingly ‘abstract’, gestural style were unlike anything previously seen from an Aboriginal painter. Far from being an overnight sensation, however, Kngwarray’s works are the culmination of a lifetime of making art for ceremonial purposes. By the time she took up a paintbrush and acrylic paints, Kngwarray was a truly experienced artist.

    In Kngwarray’s paintings, symbols are used sparingly to transcend the narrative aspect of the Dreamings they evoke. Her strong marks and fields of colour express the resonance of ancestral power in the landscape, in the same way that rarrk (crosshatching) does in Arnhem Land bark paintings. The three paintings illustrated here reveal a range of approaches to painting that she developed over the span her acrylic painting career.

    Traditionally, Kngwarray’s main concern was with the atnwelarr (pencil yam), a creeper with bright-green leaves, yellow flowers and edible roots. Her name, ‘Kam’, means the seeds and flowers of the pencil yam plant. The practice of naming a person after a particular feature of a Dreaming emphasises their connection to the Creation.

    One of her earliest canvas paintings, Ntange Dreaming 1989, is akin to a self-portrait but not in the sense that Kngwarray has made an image of her face or her physical features. Rather it is an image of her identity expressed in terms of her ceremonial status, her role in Anmatyerr society and her intimate relationship with the ancestrally created landscape of her birth. Ntange Dreaming is composed of a series of awely, or designs that are painted onto women’s breasts, arms and torsos in ceremonies. Overlaying these, Kngwarray has applied lines of dots using her fingers directly onto the canvas, in the same way designs may be applied to the body. The dots themselves signify the seed of the native grasses (called ‘ntange’ in Anmatyerr) that women collect and grind into a paste to make damper.

    Anoranngait, healing plant 1990, painted the year after Ntange Dreaming, reveals a more formal side of the artist’s oeuvre. The application of the paint is consistent with the 1989 painting but the palette is relatively subdued and the composition more regular. Kngwarray explained the related subject of the painting in the following manner.  When a child or adult falls ill in the artist’s country, women collect the leaves of a fuchsia-type shrub called anoranngait and boil them in water to produce a light but strong green liquid, which is washed over the body, particularly on the affected areas. The artist described the bathing motion with scooped hands and splashing motions over her chest and stomach. The painting is her adaptation of the traditional liturgies for aligning ceremonial participants with the healing powers of nature. The stippled patterns depict the medicinal plant, evoke the shimmering heat haze, suggest an aura of supernatural power, and can even extend to the all-encompassing canopy of stars in the night sky.

    Yam awely 1995 was a major undertaking in the final year of the artist’s life. In contrast to the intimate detail of Ntange Dreaming and Anoranngait, healing plant, Kngwarray now extended her brush mark to the radius achieved by the full sweep of her arm, thus relating the painting directly to the human scale despite its monumentality, in a manner similar to that Jackson Pollock achieved in Blue poles 1952. The free-flowing gestural nature of the brush marks in Yam awelye is derived from another traditional source of inspiration, that being the palimpsests of sand drawings made by desert women as part of a spoken narrative and storytelling.

    Kngwarray was intensely traditional in her life and outlook, yet her work challenges pre-existing notions of the ‘traditional’ in Aboriginal art.

    Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana


    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

  • Emily Kam Kngwarray is regarded as a phenomenon in Australian art. She worked with immense speed and assurance for an elderly woman who, it is popularly believed, started painting in her seventies – moving from batiks to acrylic on canvas in 1988. In a brief eight-year painting career, Kngwarray produced an extraordinary number of canvases, reputed to be as many as 3000—an average of a canvas a day. To the art world, her output and seemingly ‘abstract’, gestural style were unlike anything previously seen from an Aboriginal painter.

    Ntange Dreaming depicts the artist’s country after rain, which is regarded as ancestral powers fertilising the earth. At this time the native grasses—called ntange in the Anmatyerr language—go to seed. The women collect the seeds, grind them into paste and make a damper that is part of the feast following a ceremony. Kngwarray based this canvas on the designs painted onto the upper chest and breasts of women taking part in the ceremony and painted the designs in the same way, directly onto the canvas with her fingers.

    Kngwarray was intensely traditional in her life and outlook, yet her work challenges pre-existing notions of the ‘traditional’ in Aboriginal art.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Emily Kam Kngwarray is regarded as a phenomenon in Australian art. She worked with immense speed and assurance for an elderly woman who, it is popularly believed, started painting in her 70s—moving from batiks to acrylic on canvas in 1988. In a brief eight-year painting career Kngwarray produced an extraordinary number of canvases, reputed to be as many as 3000—an average of a canvas a day. To the art world her output and seemingly ‘abstract’ gestural style were unlike anything previously seen from an Aboriginal painter.

    Her early painting Ntange Dreaming is akin to a self-portrait, but not in the sense that Kngwarray has made an image of her face or physical features. Rather it is an image of her identity expressed in terms of her ceremonial status, her role in Anmatyerr society and her intimate relationship with the ancestrally created landscape of her birth.

    Ntange Dreaming depicts the country after rain— regarded as ancestral powers fertilising the earth. The native grasses (ntange) go to seed at this time. The women collect the seeds, grind them into paste and make a damper that is part of the feast following a ceremony. Kngwarray based this canvas on the designs painted onto the breasts and torsos of women taking part in the ceremony—and she created Ntange Dreaming in the same way, painting with her fingers directly onto the canvas.

    Kngwarray was intensely traditional in her life and outlook, yet her work challenges pre-existing notions of the ‘traditional’ in Aboriginal art.


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

  • 埃米莉·坎·肯瓦雷 (Emily Kam Kngwarray)
    《草籽梦幻》(Ntange Dreaming)
    1989年
    澳大利亚北领地中部沙漠乌托邦
    绘画,帆布材料,合成聚合物涂料
    135.00(高) x 122.00(宽)厘米
    1989年购买
    收录号:NGA 89.1928
    ©埃米莉·坎·肯瓦雷。Viscopy授权。

    埃米莉•坎•肯瓦雷被视为澳大利亚艺术的一朵奇葩。她虽然是老年妇女,但工作效率高,而且值得信赖。据说,她七十多岁才开始画画,1988年从蜡染转向用合成聚合物涂料在帆布上作画。短短的八年绘画生涯期间,肯瓦雷产出了数量庞大的帆布画,据说多达3000件;平均每天完成一幅。对艺术界来说,她的高产和看似“抽象”、手势的风格是土著画家前所未有的。然而,肯瓦雷远非一夜成名,她的作品是一生致力于仪式艺术的辉煌顶点。等到肯瓦雷拿起画笔和合成聚合物涂料时,她已是一个真正经验丰富的艺术家。

    肯瓦雷的画作中,很少使用象征符号来超越作品唤起梦幻叙事性的一面。她用鲜明的笔调和作色区表达先祖之力在画面中的共鸣,与阿纳姆地树皮画使用的交叉排线有异曲同工之妙。这三幅插图展现了她合成聚合物涂料画生涯期间提炼出的一系列的绘画手法。

    传说,肯瓦雷主要关心的是铅笔山药(atnwelarr),铅笔山药是一种匍匐植物,叶子为亮绿色,开黄花,根可食用。她取名为“坎”,意指铅笔山药植物的种子和花。用梦幻某独特性给人取名的习惯强调了他们与创世之间的联系。

    创作于1989年的《草籽梦幻》是她的一幅早期帆布画,类似于自画像,但不是说肯瓦雷把自己的面部形象或外形特征表现在画作里了。相反,她根据自己在举办仪式中地位、Anmatyerr社会中的角色和她与祖先在她出身地创造的风景之间的亲密关系,表达了她的身份形象。《草籽梦幻》(第70页)由一系列奥丽(awely),或仪式上绘制在妇女胸部、手臂和躯干上的图案构成。覆盖图案的时候,肯瓦雷直接使用手指在帆布上点缀出连串斑点,用同样的方式,图案也可以绘制在身体上。斑点本身表示原生草种的种子(Anmatyerr语中叫ntange),妇女将这种草收集起来磨成糊状制作面包(hamper)。

    《阿诺琅盖特——治病草药(Anoranngait, healing plant)》于1990年,即完成《草籽梦幻》的次年创作而成,展示了艺术家作品更加严肃的一面。颜料的应用与1989年的作品一致,但色彩范围相对趋于平缓,构图更加工整。肯瓦雷对作品相关主题的解释如下。在艺术家的家乡,当孩子或成年人生病了,妇女采集叫做阿诺朗盖特的倒挂金钟属植物灌木的叶子,入水熬制成轻稀的浓绿色汤药,用来擦洗身体,尤其是受感染的部位。艺术家描述了手捧汤药沐浴身体的动作以及汤药在她胸口和肚皮上飞溅的动感。作品中,她用艺术手法再现了传统礼拜仪式,用大自然的愈合力量调理仪式参与者。点画模式描绘了药用植物,使人想起微微翻起的层层热雾,营造出一种超自然神力的氛围,甚至可以延伸至无所不包的繁星点点的夜空苍穹。

    创作于1995年的《山药奥丽》是艺术家生命最后一年的力作。与《草籽梦幻》和《阿诺琅盖特——治病草药(Anoranngait, healing plant)》的亲密细节截然不同,肯瓦雷现在抡圆手臂将笔触延至半径范围,这样,尽管大于原物,直接将画作与人体尺寸联系起来,手法类似于杰克逊·波洛克(Jackson Pollock)于1952年创作的《蓝杆(Blue poles)》。《山药奥丽》笔触流畅的手势特点源于另一个传统灵感来源,即沙漠妇女在口述故事过程中创作沙画的临摹本。

    肯瓦雷的生活和世界观非常传统,然而她的作品却挑战了土著艺术中已有的“传统”概念。

    Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana
    弗兰切西卡·库比尤和瓦里·卡鲁阿那


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

  • Emily Kam Kngwarray is regarded as a phenomenon in Australian art. She worked with immense speed and assurance for an elderly woman who, it is popularly believed, started painting in her seventies – moving from batiks to acrylic on canvas in 1988. In a brief eight-year painting career, Kngwarray produced an extraordinary number of canvases, reputed to be as many as 3000 – an average of a canvas a day.

    To the art world, her output and seemingly ‘abstract’, gestural style were unlike anything previously seen from an Aboriginal painter. Ntange Dreaming depicts the artist’s country after rain, which is regarded as ancestral powers fertilising the earth. At this time the native grasses – called ntange in the Anmatyerr language – go to seed. The women collect the seeds, grind them into paste and make a damper that is part of the feast following a ceremony. Kngwarray based this canvas on the designs painted onto the upper chest and breasts of women taking part in the ceremony and painted the designs in the same way, directly onto the canvas with her fingers.

    Kngwarray was intensely traditional in her life and outlook, yet her work challenges pre-existing notions of the ‘traditional’ in Aboriginal art.

    Women's traditional methods of mark-making include the use of pigments made from ochres which are applied to the body. This body painting is central to the performance of awely - women's ceremonies - and the marks themselves symbolise the actions of ancestral beings or Dreamings. Women also tell tyepety stories while drawing in the sand with their hands - narratives of both ancestral and day-to-day significance. This work features designs painted onto women's breasts.

    Vast areas of the centre of the Australian continent are classified by Europeans as desert. Yet Aboriginal people's intimate knowledge of the environment, learned over millennia, has allowed them to live well in these often hostile conditions.

    The desert was the birthplace of one of the most important movements in modern Australian art. In the early 1970s, senior Aboriginal men at the government settlement of Papunya, west of Alice Springs, began to make portable paintings in acrylic using the traditional symbols of their ceremonial sand drawings, ground paintings and body painting.

    The developments at Papunya spread in time to other desert communities, including Utopia, north east of Alice Springs, where Emily Kam Kngwarray emerged as a leading artist in the 1990s. In Kngwarray's paintings, symbols are used sparingly to transcend the narrative aspect of the Dreamings they evoke. Her strong gestural marks and fields of colour express the resonance of ancestral power in the landscape, as does the cross-hatching in Arnhem Land bark paintings.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010