Soakages Exhibition : 15th Oct - 16 Dec 2015
Soakages brings together a new collection of Utopia elder Lena Pwerle's work, described as ‘unashamedly modern’, in an emotionally charged exhibition of colour, movement and deep cultural rhythm.
Kwaty ngenty (Soakages)
Called kwaty ngenty in Lena's native tongue, these soakages provided her people with much need water supply and could be difficult to find. It was important to know where they were. With their intimate knowledge of the land, Lena’s people knew how and where to find them in the harsh desert environment.
Some are found in the form of rockholes hidden by overgrown foliage, others under the sand where digging is required and some are the length of football fields sunken into the ground like a swamp. With many soakages now dried up, and modern interests vying for the attention of younger generations, losing this knowledge is a great threat to Lena's people and painting this story shines a light on it's importance.
“Long time [ago] olden time mob get their little coolamon (bowl), they check them [soakages] – proper good one water! They been find ‘em under the ground. My grandmother taught me where to find ‘em. They dry now, they finish. They [my people] drink bore water now” - Lena Pwerle, 7th Oct 2008.
Lena is a senior boss woman at Utopia and, though into her 80's, actively participates on a number of government boards including the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (which protects aboriginal sacred sites within the NT) and the Urapuntja council which governs Utopia.
Lena's wisdom and seniority carries over to all parts of her life and she can be found teaching and encouraging other Ahalpere women to learn, participate and pass on their culture.
As an artist, Lena initially worked in the medium of batik along with over eighty women from the Utopia region and her work in batik is featured in the “Utopia – A Picture Story” collection publication. Lena dabbled in painting in the years to follow but not with any longevity. In 1996, recognised for her earlier batik work, Lena was invited to represent Australia in Western Samoa for the Festival of Pacific Arts where she was marked as ‘among the best available talent’. In this same year she also traveled to Indonesia for a workshop funded by the Northern Territory Department of Education.
For many years Lena lived at Mosquito Bore in Utopia and, although not prolific, continued to paint alongside other women of her community. These paintings often depicted symbolic elements of the Anwektety (Bush Plum) Dreaming that belongs to Ahalpere country. Some rare pieces depicted her earliest Soakage paintings; these were entirely covered in dots which were painstakingly painted with the finest end of bamboo satay sticks. It wasn't until the late 00's when Lena, under the guidance of Mbantua Gallery & Cultural Museum and myself at the time, was encouraged to explore expressing the concept of this dreaming without dots. Lena had bad cataracts and was finding it difficult to apply the fine detail needed with dot work.
Almost immediately this bold contemporary style emerged, attributing to Lena's success as a solo artist in recent years; her work being exhibited in galleries nationally. Here, we launch Utopia Lane's first exhibition and fittingly bestow the honour to Lena Pwerle and her newest collection. A mix of watery hues, warm undertones and pastel colours dominate the collection. Soakages overlap on one another as if they do beneath the ground, creating unexpected mixes of colours and movement that bring an edge to Lena's artwork.
I hope you enjoy the exhibition and that the paintings move you as much as they do me. I am in love!
Please send us your comments, we always love to hear feedback and so does Lena.
Senior Art Curator
Exhibition artworks are no longer available here. Please visit Lena Pwerle to view all current Lena Pwerle paintings.