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Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition set to open at National Gallery of Australia

Phoebe Blogg -

Opening this weekend at the National Gallery of Australia, the Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition will bring together a series of works the talented Anmatyerr artist has created over the span of her career.

Showing between 2 December 2023 and 28 April 2024, the exhibition will be the first survey of Kngwarray's work to be held in a major institution since 2008.

The exhibition will also be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that privileges the artist's voice, drawing on audio recordings Kngwarray made in the 1980s and 1990s, to offer new insights into her life and work.

The 256-page publication further features original research and reflections from the artist's community, curators and academics.

Striving to draw from her cultural connection to Country, the exhibition brings together the most important works of Kngwarray's career, from early vibrant batiks to her later monumental paintings.

Several never-before-seen works are also included in this exhibition, along with new acquisitions of Kngwarray's seminal works in the national collection.

National Gallery director, Dr Nick Mitzevich said the collection is one of the most comprehensive and complete exhibitions of Kngwarray's work to be staged in Australia.

"Not only was she one of the most significant Australian artists to emerge in the 20th Century, she was also a pioneer in so many ways. She blazed a path for First Nations artists, women artists and Australian artists – her work continues to enthral audiences around the world," Mr Mitzevich said.

"Through her unparalleled talent and deep cultural connections, Kngwarray's works transcend time, inviting audiences to explore the spiritual landscapes and ancestral narratives woven intricately within each stroke."

Installation view, Emily Kam Kngwarray, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2023. (Image: Jed Cooper)

In preparing for the exhibition, co-curators Cole and Perkins, along with linguist Dr Jennifer Green, consulted extensively with Kngwarray's family and community, with the assistance of Utopia Art Centre and regional art centre peak body, Desart.

"We've been working in collaboration with the family and community of Utopia of the Urapuntja homelands in the Sandover Region to offer nuanced analyses that acknowledge both the cultural specificity of Kngwarray's inspiration and the majestic scope of Country and its ancestral inheritances," said co-curators Cole and Perkins.

"This invaluable partnership has also resulted in an immersive audio tour that features soundscapes and the songs of the awely (women's ceremony), and uncovers the incredible artistic quality, legacy and cultural impact that Knwarray's works brings to life.

"Visitors will journey beyond the artworks, into the heart of Utopia and discover an art movement that emerged from this extraordinary Country.

"This exhibition is a reminder that the stories and places Kngwarray painted are enduring, the culture that informed them is very much alive."

Emily Kam Kngwarray near Mparntwe / Alice Springs after the first exhibition of Utopia batiks, 1980. (Image: Toly Sawenko)

As a senior Anmatyerr woman from Utopia - north-east of Mparntwe/Alice Springs - Kngwarray is considered one of the world's most significant contemporary artists to emerge in the 20th century.

Taking up painting in her 70s, Kngwarray devoted her final years to painting, creating works that encapsulate the cultural knowledge, experience and authority she gained throughout an extraordinary life.

To mark the gallery's 40th anniversary in 2022, the National Gallery acquired two significant works by Kngwarray including Untitled (awely) 1994 and Alhalker—my Country 1992, with the assistance of the Foundation Gala Dinner Fund in 2021.

Installation view, Emily Kam Kngwarray, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2023. (Image: Jed Cooper)

With plans to present internationally in Europe next year, Kngwarray's work is continuing to gain the attention of not just an Australian audience, but on a global scale.

Following this presentation, the National Gallery of Australia will also collaborate with Tate Modern to stage a major Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition in London in 2025.

"The National Gallery is thrilled to partner with Tate Modern to stage the first large-scale presentation of Emily Kam Kngwarray's work ever held in Europe," Mr Mitzevich said.

"The show will further elevate the voices and stories of First Nations artists, women artists and Australian artists to international audiences."

Tickets to the exhibition are now available online.

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