Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Series Editor Natalie King
Thames & Hudson

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) forged new ground for contemporary Indigenous art and is the initial First Nations artists to be included in a series of mini-monographs, which promote the exceptional work of women artists in Australia.

Novelist, playwright and editor Colm Tóibín pens an essay on her practice, ‘A Landscape Fully Known’, in which he meanders through references to philosophers to ultimately resolve that in her abstraction and spiritualism the work produced doesn’t benefit from didactic definitions or another’s world view, but rather we can plug into the shared feeling that Kngwarreye ‘invoked abundance and, through an elaborate set of marks and lines and patterns, she distilled it, pushing it towards essence.’

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Tóibín speaks about the conceptual underpinnings of her work and connection to country, noting the divining it would take to truly of define this, yet stating ‘It might make more sense, or help us to see her work better, if we imagine her working as a cartographer of a landscape fully known – physically, viscerally known – and inhabited in ways that are spiritual and pure, as well as exact and precise.’

Although he begins with a note that Kngwarreye only painted for less than a decade of her life and is from the Utopia community in the Northern Territory, Tóibín describes her career mostly in a non-linear fashion, reinforcing the intuitive and yet expert nature of her work and its affect on viewers. After this text, and also evoking a sense of timelessness, is the presentation of reproductions of Kngwarreye’s work, which appear out of order. Some of the highlights include; Untitled 1995, acrylic on canvas, six panels; Untitled 1992, acrylic on canvas and Untitled 1995 (yam), acrylic on canvas.

The ‘mini monograph’ hits a final note with a photographic portrait of the artist by Christopher Hodges, artist and director of Utopia Art Sydney, and his text ‘FREEDOM’. The anecdote recounting recounts his first meeting with Kngwarreye and noting how he enabled her deep dive into acrylic painting which painting that lead to this collection of strong works created ‘with intent and without restrictions or demands.’ The mini monograph is a concise introduction to leading artists. However, as Kngwarreye so fully seized her opportunity to create this reader feels that the title would benefit from the same energy.