Born in the Atnwengerrp region in the Northern Territory, Jeannie Mills Pwerle is an Alyawarre woman. She is an established artist from the community of Utopia in the Northern Territory. Her mother is the acclaimed artist Dolly Mills and her uncle was Greeny Purvis Petyarre (late).
Jeannie Mills Pwerle predominantly depicts the Bush Yam dreaming from her father’s country of Irrwelty (Yam) in Utopia. Thick segments in bright and varied colours represent the flowers and root of the yam, while precise and detailed dot work, usually in white, between the segments represents the yam seeds. Jeannie incorporates several different colours in each segment to give the effect of texture. She sometimes uses iridescent paint to give a luminous appearance.
Jeannie Mills Pwerle was selected as a finalist and her work exhibited in the 25th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NAATSI) in 2008. This prestigious award that introduced her to an international audience.
The Aboriginal community of Utopia is situated 240 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. It is on the land of the Anmatyerre and Alyawarre-speaking peoples who have been making important visual images for thousands years on their bodies, on the ground, and on ceremonial objects. In 1977 these images leapt onto lengths of silk batik. The women of Utopia went on to establish a reputation for themselves in this medium with their powerful images and distinctive style.
The subjects for the art come from the land: lengths of silk canvas are covered with plants, lizards, snakes, centipedes, and fat goannas. Ceremony too is important and body-paint designs and dancing paths are often seen. Foot prints, animal tracks, sites, and implements also feature in a rich variety of creative styles. During the 1980s the women exhibited their batik across Australia and overseas, with notable exhibitions at the Adelaide Festival, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, MAGNT Jogjakarta Fine Art Academy in Indonesia, culminating with the traveling exhibition of the Holmes a Court Collection of Utopia batik ‘Utopia: A Picture Story’(Cork, Dublin and Limerick 1990) The women of Utopia have had their work included in a number of museum and public gallery exhibitions and it has been acquired by collectors and institutions across the country In all this they were assisted by a number of art and craft advisers who served as the link between the market place, art suppliers, exhibiting venues and the community.
A shift away from batik occurred in the late 1980s when some men at Utopia began painting on canvas. The women, too, quickly took up painting on linen.
Utopia paintings were exhibited for the first time in ‘A Summer Project’ ( SHEG 1988 – 89) Some of the artists simply translated their batik paintings images into acrylics, but others immediately grasped the new technical possibilities of the medium and produced striking new images.
Utopia artists were also adept carvers. The men were well known, even before the advent of batik and acrylic painting,
for their fine fluted boomerangs and shields and the women equally known for their carved animals and dancing sticks, sometimes with poker-work designs. Acrylic paint is now applied to all these objects, and Utopia now produces a
range of vivid lizards, coolamons, dancing sticks, and most notably carved and painted human figures.
[- extract from Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Kleinert, S and Neale, M Oxford University Press, Pg 725]