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Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Utopia panel 1996

Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Anmatyerre people
Australia NT
Utopia panel 1996
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Commissioned 1996 with funds from the Andrew Thyne Reid Charitable Trust through and with the assistance of the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
© Emily Kngwarreye 1996. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2008

Eastside/Westside: Paintings from Central Australia

20 September – 19 October 2008, Gallery 1.2 GoMA

From the early 1970s, Eastern and Western Desert paintings by Indigenous artists showed a fresh view of the desert regions of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. These are not the arid, empty wastelands of European imagination but places of constant occupation, since ancestral beings traversed a flat land, singing and dancing the landscape into existence.

Contemporary Western Desert painting began in 1971, when senior men at Papunya, a settlement 300 kilometres west of Alice Springs, began using European art materials to record their traditional knowledge. During the 1980s, a new community called Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs, gained prominence with bright, bold batik and canvas paintings. Ever since, the focus of the movement has shifted between the strongholds of the ‘westside’ (to the west of Alice Springs) and the Anmetyerre and Alyawarre lands on the ‘eastside’.

Here, we can also observe the very different directions that dot painting has taken in each region. Eastern Desert painters have adapted their dotting technique to transmit an almost pointillist, aerial view of country, and to illustrate a surface layer (plants, flowers and produce) which sits on top of the land and represents the ‘everything’ — all that is spiritually, physically and metaphysically embedded within country, on the surface and subterranean. This contrasts with the Western Desert technique, which introduced dotting as a veil to obscure secret information within paintings, and has since evolved into the basic element for ‘building up’ a painting’s imagery.The stylistic differences and individual idiosyncrasies found in the art from each region highlight the great diversity of these vibrant cultures and peoples, from places that were once thought of as Australia’s ‘dead heart’.