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Ada Bird: an inspirational figure

February 27, 2017 2 min read

Ada Bird Petyarre with her grandson

"She remains an inspiring figure of the early Aboriginal contemporary art movement."

As a senior elder and matriarch of the Anmatyerre people, Ada Bird Petyarre was deeply respected for her cultural role and talent to be able to embed this in her artwork. 

Traditional obligations and ceremony always played a large part in Ada’s life, which fed directly into the graphic magnetism of her art. 

Ada was one of the first women exposing women's ceremonial body paint designs in bold colours - sharing linear patterns that often illustrated the breasts, chest and navel areas. 

From the outset, these paintings expressed her vibrant personality and deep respect for her cultural role. 

The women paint each other according to their skin names and tribal hierarchy. They sing all the while to call the spirit ancestors to the approaching ceremony. This haptic and affective practice invokes a tangible sense of awe and involvement among ceremonial participants and it is this influence that infuses Ada’s art making with similar qualities.

Born in 1930, Ada was an Anmatyerre woman from the Utopia region in the Northern Territory, and one of seven sisters who became notable artists. She was born on the pastoral lease Utopia, located in the Sandover region north-east of Alice Springs, and did domestic work on the station as a young woman.

As was so for her kinswoman, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Ada's art practice commenced in the late 1970's when the Utopia women were introduced to batik. She was one of the founding members of the Utopia Batik Group, whose work became an important industry for the Anmatyerre following the return of Utopia to its traditional owners in 1978.

Ada made her first painting on canvas in 1988 and held the first of her several solo exhibitions in Sydney in 1990. Subsequently, her paintings were included in major group shows in Australia and overseas, and were acquired for the collections of public institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Art Gallery of South Australia. 

German filmmaker Wim Wenders acquired one of Ada’s batiks and gave her a part in his film, Till The End of the World, that was partially shot in Central Australia.

Ada was the eldest of seven sisters all sharing the same father and subsequently owning the same Dreaming stories. Together they were exhibited countless times as the Seven Petyarre Sisters.

Today there are only very few paintings of Ada available for sale and they are becoming increasingly difficult to source and for this reason will most likely experience a dramatic increase in price since she was one of the founders of the Utopia art movement.


 Quotes about Ada Bird:

"With an impressive exhibition history and a strong presence in the literature you would expect Ada Bird to be one of Aboriginal Australia’s most collectible artists, if currently slightly out of fashion."

"She remains an inspiring figure of the early Aboriginal contemporary art movement."

"Her more inimately executed works are the pieces that will hold, and increase, in value over time."

"Collectors should keep their eyes open for the best of her paintings on those rare occasion when they appear."


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