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Spirits of the Desert Exhibition

Past Exhibition

Spirits of the Desert  Exhibition  |  25 Nov 2016 - 20 Jan 2017

Spirits of the Desert features the works of two female Aboriginal artists, Colleen Wallace Nungari and Angelina Ngale, who paint spirits of the desert. 


In the Eastern Desert, there are spirits that roam the country. They generally have a role to protect the country and its people, or to guard special areas of land in particular sacred sites.

Some are good spirits that can be playful guardians, such as little child spirits; there are beautiful ancestral spirits; and there are spirits to be avoided as well. 


Artist Colleen Wallace Nungari paints intricate detail in her artworks to reflect the elegant qualities of Dreamtime Sisters. She says these Dreamtime Sisters are good spirits of the ancestors who roam the land performing sacred song and dance, looking after their country and guiding the people. 

The spirits are elongated in her works, taught to Colleen as appearing this way by her Aunt who gave her special permission to paint them. They hold ceremonial fabric in which they use to dance with.

Their dance encompasses the stories of the ancient land including the Arlatyeye(pencil yam) and the Kame (seed of the yam) Dreamtime Stories.  The site for this Dreamtime dance is Arnumarra which lies to the North East of Alice Springs in Central Australia.


Similiarly, Angelina Ngale of Ahalpere country, a little further north to Colleen, paints figures of women and children prepared for ceremonial song and dance. Through this they are helping Ngangkers (bush doctors) remove any sickness related to Atham-areny spirits.


Atham-areny comes from the Anmatyerre words atham (meaning no fire) and areny (meaning belonging to).

These spirits are described as invisible or colourless creatures which can be felt and heard as sure as the people living there can. Fires are created to ward them off if they are near, and children especially are issued not to wander from from the fire's glow.

“Akely-amperl arrkay-renem atham-areny-rnem. Ahernel anewaneyel akely-akely”
The atham-areny are very little spirits of the country. They are colourless and live in the ground [or places] where the fire does not belong.

It is said that Atham-areny are not ordinarily bad or feared, but they can be known to come out of their homes beneath the ground or in the caves, and do mischievous things such as stealing and hiding babies. Some say you can hear them barking like dogs. Others who have felt their touch become sick and a ceremony is required to help them get better, such is the foundation of Angelina's paintings; they are about promoting healing and ceremony.

Atham-areny belong to the hilly area surrounding Willowra which is a sacred place. It has soakages there, and was once an important site for training Ngangkers. Fellow countrywoman Lena Pwerle recalls her father being a ngangker teacher, gathering them up for ceremony held at this site. Whilst this story is known by many, Angelina Ngale has a significant ownership role.

Each exhibition artwork has been chosen to highlight different aspects of each artist's depictions including style, colour and symbolism.

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Utopia Lane Gallery specialises in Aboriginal Art from the Utopia region in Central Australia.

We have over fifteen years experience working with the Utopia Aboriginal people.


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