Medicine Woman Exhibition : 29th Apr - 12 Jun 2016
Medicine Woman brings together a new collection of artwork by Utopia artist and ngangker, Jeannie Mills Pwerle, in a special solo exhibition that resonates strong earthly vibes.
Born in 1965 in a remote region of Central Australia some 250 km north east of Alice Springs, Jeannie's pedigree is richly imbued with some of Australia's most respected Aboriginal painters. Her grandma was Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Australia's number 1 ranked Australian Aboriginal artist on the AIAM. Her mother, Dolly Mills Petyarre, was a 90's sensation represented in many sell out exhibitions and her uncle the late Greeny Purvis Petyarre was a finalist in the 21st NATSIAA.
Growing up, Jeannie spent a great deal of time at a small community called Three Bore in Utopia with her mother's family. She recalls being an older sister to Greeny's daughters, Judy, Jedda and Maureen and collecting sugar bag was among her favourite activities.
Jeannie's principal country in which she associates with is her father's country, Irrwelty, in Utopia's northern most reaches. Her songs, dances, ceremonial attributes and Dreaming stories belong to this country, including the Anaty story in which she chooses to feature in her paintings.
Anaty (Bush Yam)
The Anaty is the Alyawarr word for desert yam which is similar in colour and texture to a potato but sweeter, and grows across Central Australia. Growing up to the size of a human head, this yam is an important food source for the Aboriginal people of Central Australia and is still favoured and collected today.
In Jeannie's paintings, linear designs represent the yam and its bright magenta flower, while the dot work represents its seed.
Ngangker and Leadership
A ngangker is a traditional healer or doctor, sometimes loosely called witch doctor. As a ngangker, Jeannie carries a responsibility to provide healing advice, medicine and applications to the community when needed, which is often at any hour and for no payment.
Jeannie currently resides in a small camp near Arlparra Store - the one store servicing the entire 1,000+ sq km region, which is an accessible area for those seeking her services. Wherever she lives or travels, people know about it, such that her home is often called 'Jeannie's camp'. She lives with senior elder Lena Pwerle, and the two are heavily involved in educating and encouraging other women to participate in painting, exhibitions and culture.
“Ngangker ikngwelhenty akngeyel, ikngwerenty ikngweyel arlengew ikngwelhenty akngeyel'
‘Somebody goes a long way to get that traditional healer’
Traditional ngangker's are a dying breed. Often Western medicines are taught to those wanting to help the nurses stationed at Utopia, or to be a community nurse able to distribute various western medicines. But to be a ngangker, one must be taught the 'whole lot' in traditional medicines; not only the history, use and preparation but they must honour traditions and ngangker's of the past. It's sacred site is associated with a hill called Woolera in south Utopia where corroboree's were once held and attended by all ngangker's, led by a special teacher. For Jeannie it was Angelina Ngale's father.
There are many different types of bush medicine. One of the predominate medicines Jeannie works with is Apeng. Leaves of the Kurrajong tree are ground for mixing with other materials, smelling strongly of menthol. When mixed with water it can be drunk as a solution for chest colds, or if mixed with animal fats it is applied topically to help ease pain. Jeannie tries to keep a drum full of the latter and gives it out for free when people come for it. When she travels she brings with her a small tin full in case her services are called upon.
Personal note from the curator
I have always enjoyed working with Jeannie who I often see with Lena Pwerle, and love their company. Once when I lived in Alice Springs and Jeannie was in town to visit and paint away from all the hustle and bustle of home, I watched as an old toyota showed up at 10pm. Ladies piled out talking in urgent hushed tones, seeking Jeannie's assistance. This was when I first found out she was a ngangker. One of the boys hadn't been eating and was sick. They travelled in from Utopia to find Jeannie. She rubbed his belly with medicine, gave instructions and sent them on their way. The ladies waved back as they drove off in the darkness. At every opportunity since I ask her about her work as an ngangker.
Jeannie's paintings are appreciated by many and for good reasons. Her works are incandescent with splashes of colour framed in tiny bright speckles of dots. They have their own delicious flavour; a mix of soft, colourful, emotional energy that flows very subtly across the canvas, and dotting which carries that traditional Aboriginal art vibe. It's a mix that people find broadly appealing which is pleasing for Jeannie.
I've often found her work posted on blogs across the globe, receiving many 'likes' and comments expressing a shared admiration. I've shared these posts with Jeannie on occasion in which she blushed and modestly shared with those who were gathered around inquisitively.
Enjoy the exhibition and if you feel like pinning, blogging or sharing we welcome you to tag us so that we can share your love with Jeannie!
Senior Art Curator
Exhibition artworks are no longer available. Please visit Jeannie Mills Pwerle to view all current paintings.