Karen bird Ngale is the youngest daughter of well known artist and prominent leader for the area, Lindsay Bird. Her mother Mavis, and two sisters Jessie and Rosie are also artists. Karen bird Ngale has been painting since she was an early teenager and has developed particular skill in executing very fine dot work and intricate imagery.
Although her story is also painted by her sisters her distinctive rendition of the Alpar (Rat tail) story makes Karen’s work desirable. The Alpar story is an important dreamtime story for Ilkawerne (the area Karen is from) women. The plant seeds were collected by women, soaked in water the dried and ground into a flour like substance. It was used medicinally and as a food. Currently residing at Akaye Soakage in the Utopia Region of Central Australia, her paintings are Dreamtime stories associated with Awelye (women’s ceremonies) and Alpar (rat tail plant, bush medicine plant) .
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.
This new medium saw the rise of the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who paved the way for a freer, fresher and very vibrant contemporary art form, unique to the women’s paintings of Utopia. Others followed suit, such as Ada Bird Petyarre, Gloria Tamarre Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre, Rosemary Petyarre and Nancy Petyarre.
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.
The subject of many of Rosemary Petyarre’s paintings is a representation of leaves collected around her country and used for a variety of medicinal purposes. In particular, she returns again and again to Bush Yam Leaves and Bush Medicine, depicting these themes with flowing representations of the leaves. Typical of the Utopia artists, Rosemary Petyarre rejoices in the use of colour.
Today, Rosemary Petyarre spends her time between Utopia and Alice Springs. Rosemary Petyarre is a highly talented artist amongst the famous names of Aboriginal art who reside and work at Utopia Homelands. Rosemary Petyarre’s paintings have been acquired by collectors worldwide. Aboriginal art status – Established artist.
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