Polly Ngale is considered to be one of the most accomplished painters to have come from Utopia yet her name is less familiar than those renowned Utopia counterparts many of us know so well - Gloria Petyarre, Barbara Weir, Minnie Pwerle. This also includes the likes of Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Australia's No. 1 indigenous artist of all time - whom Polly's work was exhibited alongside in Tokyo in 2008 as part of the illustrious international exhibition that was Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy. An underrated accomplishment.
Emily and Polly did not share the same lineage however their lives were closely intertwined. Polly was married to Emily's half brother and they had seven children, all of whom inherited his country (and that of Emily's) as their country, Alhalkere. Some of them have chosen to continue the painting tradition and you may see their artwork from time to time on our website, including Josie Kunoth Petyarre and Bessie Petyarre.
Emily and Polly's paintings are similarly composed of superimposed layers of brushwork dotting. They are two artists who can use this technique to create vivid, almost multi-dimensional patterns of colour, and convey a deep emotion and sensory experience for the viewer. They are both respected and admired for their ability to do this, yet their paintings represent entirely different subject matter.
Emily was from Alhalkere country and famously stated that she painted 'Whole Lot'. Polly might agree her own paintings are influenced by everything sacred to her as well, but the Anwekety (Conkerberry) Story (also known as Bush Plum) is her most significant story and she chooses to highlight that in her works above anything else. This story belongs to her country Ahalpere.
It is said that in the Dreamtime, winds blew from all directions carrying the seed of this sweet black conkerberry over the land. The first Anwekety then grew, bore fruit and dropped more seeds. Winds blew these seeds all over the Dreaming lands.
Many others belonging to Ahalpere country choose to paint this story as well. Of her family members, sister Kathleen Ngale paints in a similar dotting style and her artwork has also been well exhibited. Polly and Kathleen both have custodianship of the Conkerberry Story and are responsible for educating younger generations. It is no coincidence then that so many people from their community paint this story.
Polly was first introduced to the medium of batik in the late 1980's and her work in this is represented in the Holmes a Court Collection. Polly then commenced painting in the 1990's when the movement swept Utopia. Her most notable achievements in this medium are her honourable mention as a 2004 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award finalist, which was followed by representation at the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris at the Grand Palais Champs Elysees. Also notable is her inclusion in the exhibition at the Hillside Forum Daikanyama Tokyo in 2008; Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy.
Polly's paintings often exude a warmth generated by a rich palette of earthy colours, and are borne from traditional knowledge of the subject matter, of spiritual ties, ceremonial connection and personal responsibility. As with many of the older generation of aboriginal artists, Polly speaks very little English and undoubtedly uses her paintings as a means to speak to the world outside of Utopia. We choose to help with this, and doing so is a strong part of our mission statement.
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It's the final weekend of this special exhibition.
My Country is a collaboration with Utopia artists Delvine Petyarre and Dulcie Pwerle, featuring 9 works titled My Country.
Ends Sunday 6 April 2020.