Born in the Utopia community, in 1954 to well known artist Minnie Pwerle, Mbitjana became an artist in her own right in the early 2000’s. She is married to another artist, Paddy Club. Her country is Atnwengerrp and her languages are Anmatyerre and Alyawarr.
After painting in the finer, intricated dotted styles of her Aunt Kathleen Petyarre Betty Mbitjana moved to her mother's more expressive, rhythmic linear style and incorporated the bush melon Awelye (body paint) edsigns. Once very abundant and fruiting in the summer it is now very hard to find. Betty and the other women used to collect this fruit and scrape out the small black seeds. They would then eat the fruit immediately or cut it into pieces and skewer them on a piece of wood and dry them to be eaten in the winter.
Awelye are the designs applied to a woman's body as part of their ceremonies. The Awelye (ceremony) is performed by Aboriginal women to recall their ancestors, to show respect for their country and to demonstrate their responsibility for the wellbeing of their community. Since it reflects women's role as the nurturer the Awelye makes connections with the fertility of the land and a celebration of the food it provides.
The Awelye ceremony begins with the women painting each others' bodies in designs relating to a particular
women's dreaming and in accordance with their skin name and tribal hierarchy. The Awelye designs represent a range of dreamings including animals and plants, healing and law. The designs are painted on the chest and shoulders using powders ground from ochre, charcoal and ash, applied with a flat padded stick or with the fingers in raw linear and curved lines. The act of decorating the body transforms the individual and changes their identity. During the painting, which can take up to three hours, the women chant their dreaming.
Betty uses acrylic paint on canvas to paint her designs and has been painting for Gannon House Gallery for 15 years.
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