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Past Exhibition

Warning: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Songlines  Exhibition : 16th Jul - 9th Sept 2016 

Minnie Pwerle Painting

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Ten years since her passing, Minnie Pwerle's artistic genius continues to be gifted to the world through the hand of her daughter Betty Mbitjana. Songlinescelebrates the work of mother and daughter in what we believe is a poignant exhibition of song, dance, life, colour and spirit.


Minnie Pwerle was born in approx 1922 in Utopia, an expansive region in Australia's remote Eastern Desert. She spent most of her life there, bearing seven children and working for pastoralists. With her family she camped nomadically across the northern reaches, near waterholes, sacred places and where bush food took them...often found retracing Songlines of the ancestors.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Dreamtime describes a time when the earth, people and animals were created by ancestral spiritual beings. Dreaming tracks crisscross Australia and are sometimes called ‚ÄėSonglines‚Äô as they record the travels of these ancestral spirits who 'sung' the land into life as they created the rivers, lakes, plants, land formations and living creatures.

For Minnie's people these Songlines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance and art for Dreaming stories, such as the Bush Melon, or their country as a whole. There is a place in Atnwengerrp country called Anthep, which translates to 'dancing lines'. Lines are literally etched into the rock surface from generations of dancing.

An Australian Icon

At nearly 80 years of age, Minnie Pwerle made a somewhat unexpected entry into the Australian Art market when she completed her first canvas in 2000.

On this historic day, she was in Adelaide accompanying her daughters who were painting. She was given her own canvas to work on as a way for her to 'join in...because she couldn't paint all that well', the family had said. 

Minnie's first paintings belied a different story however. They revealed vivid and emotionally charged markings symbolic of her country Atnwengerrp and associated women's ceremony designs. Bright coloured lines overlapped haphazardly across the canvas, and there was nothing tentative about the surety with which she painted these. It was as though they had been cultivating in her mind for many years. She had, after all, sung and painted these ceremonial designs since she was a young girl. She had also watched from the sidelines since the 1980's when her community completed batik and painting artistry, when daughter Barbara Weir created Pollock-esque masterpieces, and when fellow country woman Emily Kame Kngwarreye rose to fame.

A frenzy of interest followed with requests from art galleries and collectors instantaneously. Here was a woman born almost a century ago, intuitively painting cultural motifs that those outside of the immediate community might never otherwise glimpse, and with such compelling dynamism that they resonated wildly with people of all backgrounds and interests. Her first series of artworks consisted of 200 pieces, and over the next six years Minnie produced thousands of paintings.

So, why after all this, had it taken Minnie so long to put brush to canvas? "No one asked me."

Handing Down of a Legacy

Betty Mbitjana, Minnie's middle child, was a likely successor to paint Minnie's designs after her mother's passing in 2006. Not only had Betty been by Minnie's side throughout her six year career, acting as an unofficial agent if it were, she was also known to assist Minnie paint in those later years. For Betty to take on the designs in an official capacity sometime later, with permission from the family, was a reward for all; the community could continue to receive financial benefits through Betty's hand, and most importantly Minnie's legacy lives on. 

The two artists' works are as different as they are similar. It can be challenging for the untrained eye to tell the difference between mother and daughter's work, but for those wanting to learn, it can become easy to spot.

Speed was not an issue for Minnie, sometimes producing 50-60 paintings per day. Her artworks are as rapid and chaotic as her painting career was, particularly her earliest series, and borne from a place of intuitive knowledge. Because of this, designs can be overlapping, crooked, and have thinning paint. They are imperfect.

Betty's are more structured and refined. The designs in her paintings are that of her mother's, and therefore through a third person, a different filter, another layer. They have their own beauty in this very way.  

Betty has her own Awely for her country, a little further South than her mother's. She grew up in the same region as her mother, but being one generation removed meant the world of difference in terms of Western influences towards her artistic development. Betty participated in Batik workshops in the 1980's which were followed by acrylic workshops in the early 1990's. From years of studying in her own way she has refined the Songlines and body paint markings so that each is a well crafted, finessed piece of art while still maintaining a simplisitic vibe. 

Each Songlines piece has been chosen selectively to show off each artist's unique attributes, and tempt you to make one yours. Enjoy. 

Exhibition artworks

Exhibition artworks are no longer available. Please visit Minnie Pwerle or Betty Mbitjana to view all current paintings.

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