Rosemary Bird Petyarre (aka Pitjara) was born in 1964 at Boundary Bore on Utopia Station in the Northern Territory. Boundary Bore is located 270 kms north east of Alice Springs.
Rosemary Bird Petyarre belongs to a family who have a serious painting pedigree. Rosemary Petyarre is a niece of the late Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and her sister is Jeannie Petyarre. She is a half-sister to artists Greeny Purvis Petyarre and Evelyn Pultara. She is also a skin relation to other well-known artists including Kathleen and Gloria Tamarre Petyarre and Ada Bird Petyarre. Many people who lived in the area adopted the name of a station owner as a part of their name. In Rosemary’s case her name includes Bird, after Jim Bird.
Art making in Utopia began with the need for the inhabitants to prove that the community was financially viable. In the hearing related to their land claim the women and men were heard separately and the women used their knowledge of the land, expressed in the Batik as proof of their attachment and essential relationship with the land. In 1977, the technique of making batik was introduced to the women of Utopia in a workshop run by Suzie Bryce and Yipati Williams, a Pitjantjatjara woman. In 1978 the women learned more about the process of making batik from the schoolteacher, Toly Sawkeno, initated by the adult educator at Utopia, Jenny Green who helped with the formation and organization of the Utopia Women’s Batik group.
The Utopia batiks showed the aspects of country that were important to the women but also the new structures an influences on the community such as the general store and the new food and clothing that were available. In 1987 CAAMA (The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) with Rodney Gooch as the helm took over the running and finances of the Utopia artists and in 1988 commissioned a number of batiks. The women were encouraged to create batiks that would describe life in the Utopia outstations. Eighty-eight batiks were created and presented which then served as the opening exhibition at the new Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide in October 1988. The Batiks were deigned to be shown together and agreements were made, prior to the initial exhibitions, that they would stay together. This was possible through the generosity and vision of Janet and Robert Holmes a Court. The exhibition later toured to Ireland, after which it was purchased in it’s entirety by the Robert Holmes à Court Collection.
In the summer of 1988-1989 the medium of acrylic paint on canvas was introduced to the artists of Utopia. The versatility of the medium and the ease of creating beautiful artwork was attractive and it was a well established medium in the western desert by this time.
An exhibition entitled A Summer Project: Utopia Women’s Paintings: The First Works on Canvas was shown at the SH Irwin Gallery in Sydney. It consisted of one hundred small canvases of all the same size and used only four fundamental ceremonial colours, black, white, and yellow and red.
As a bush woman, Rosemary Petyarre is familiar with her land and its abundant species of bush tucker, medicinal plants and native fauna. She and her sister Jeannie Petyarre inherited these stories, along with important women’s stories, from her ancestors via her aunt Emily and they form the basis of her paintings.
Many of Rosemary Bird Petyarre ‘s paintings feature the leaves of trees collected for use in bush medicine. These traditional remedies are a part of a rich cultural heritage which is remembered and taught through art making and ceremony.
Rosemary bird Petyarre lives in Utopia and travels to Alice Springs regularly to paint and get supplies. She has become wel recognised for her use of colour and the detailed expression of her subject.
1989 Utopia Women’s Paintings, A Summer Project
1990 A picture Story, 88 silk works from the Holmes à Court Collection, UK
1993 Central Australian Aboriginal Art & Craft Exhibition, Alice Springs NT