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LANGUAGE GROUP: Alyawarre/Anmatyerre
COMMUNITY: Utopia, NT
Born into a lineage of remarkable talent, Charmaine Pwerle’s artistic journey has been enriched by the legacies of her grandmother, the celebrated late Minnie Pwerle, and her equally gifted mother, Barbara Weir. This powerful artistic lineage fuels Charmaine’s own creative expression, making her a notable figure among the promising younger generation of Indigenous artists. From an early age, she has been steeped in the cultural and artistic tapestry of her heritage.
With role models like her mother Barbara Weir, Grandmother Minnie Pwerle, and artists such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Gloria Petyarre, Charmaine’s artistic intuition was bound to flourish. This journey of artistic discovery has unfolded alongside a dual cultural education. Charmaine’s formative years were spent in the remote community of Utopia, located 270kms North-East of Alice Springs. Subsequently, she transitioned to the urban environment of Adelaide for educational enrichment.
Throughout her life, Charmaine’s path has woven through various educational settings, including Utopia School, St. Phillips College in Alice Springs, and Alice Springs High School. These experiences, coupled with her time living in different regions across Australia, have added depth to her artistic perspective.
In late 1992, Charmaine returned to Utopia, where she found herself amidst a rich tapestry of artists and cultural significance. Working with the Urapuntja Council, she also lived alongside her mother, Barbara Weir, and her grandparents, Minnie Pwerle and Motorcar Jim, at Soakage Bore—an outstation on what was once Utopia Station. During her time there, Charmaine delved into her cultural heritage, participating in ceremonies and absorbing the sacred stories passed down by her grandmothers.
Charmaine’s early works revealed impressive execution and a profound cultural expression. Her brushwork echoed the distinctive style of her grandmother Minnie Pwerle, yet carried the confident assurance of an artist beyond her years. Her designs, particularly ‘Awelye,’ which showcases body designs, were marked by both tradition and her unique creative interpretation.
As Charmaine’s artistic journey evolved, she continued to deepen her connection to her Dreaming, drawing upon the wisdom of her mother to create intricate layers of movement and meaning. Her work stands as part of a new wave in contemporary Aboriginal Art, upholding traditions while carving new pathways of innovation.
Charmaine’s artistic acclaim has surged, capturing the attention of major institutions and prestigious art prizes. Her exhibition history, spanning both national and international venues, is growing exponentially. She is rapidly ascending to a position akin to her mother’s, as one of the most sought-after artists in the field.
Charmaine Pwerle’s artistic expressions are not just a visual experience; they are a bridge between generations, traditions, and the future of Indigenous art. Her canvas holds the stories of her people, as she continues to honour the past while paving a vibrant path forward.
Charmaine dreamings are Awelye Atnwengerrp, Sandhills, Awelye (Body Paint) and Women’s Business – Old Time Way.
Charmaine Pwerle’s artwork ‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’ represents when the Women paint each other’s breasts and upper bodies with ochre markings, before dancing in a ceremony. The body designs are important and, painted on the chest and shoulders, and relate to each particular woman’s dreaming. The ochre pigment is ground into powder form and mixed with charcoal and ash, before being applied with a flat padded stick or with fingertips in raw linear and curving patterns. The circles in these designs represent the sites and movement where the ceremonies take place.
The lines in the painting depict the tracks that her people made as they trekked across the country in search of food and dry river beds. The large semi-circular shapes represent the sandhills and valleys. The dark colour represents the path of a fire that has swept across the land. There may also be an outline of a person or unusual shapes that convey Dreaming spirits that dwell in the plant and animal life.
Women’s Business – Old Time Way:
This painting holds a deeply cherished place to Charmaine’s heart because it preserves the final story that her Mother the late Barbara Weir shared with her and her daughters—a legacy she will continue to honour through her artwork. The story at its heart is one of childbirth, ‘the old time ways’, a glimpse into a time long before hospitals and doctors became commonplace out in the Bush. Passed down by her Mother, this narrative is a precious gift she bestowed upon Charmaine and her children.
It unfolds a world where childbirth was a women’s journey, a sacred space shared with young girls and ladies. They would gather together in the bush, to learn the art of childbirth, to prepare for the miracle of life. The story is told with the wisdom of two special trees whose bark and wood ignited fires, creating a gentle white-gray ash that cradled newborns in warmth.
In the aftermath of birth, this ash held a special role—a tender cleansing ritual that unfolded without the presence of men. This absence is mirrored in my painting, where men are depicted seated far from the women. A choose women would then emerge as a bridge, connecting the separated spheres of men and women, bearing news of a newborn’s arrival.
Yet, this narrative goes beyond birth; it’s a story of young girls absorbing the essence of womanhood within the embrace of women’s ceremonies. Charmaine’s canvas breathes life into scenes of water gathering, the crafting of tools, and fires that forged the special ash—a collective effort in preparation for new life.
In the interlude of anticipation, seasoned women, akin to present-day midwives, took charge of childbirth, a role that carries through generations. They shared their wisdom with the young, ensuring this sacred tradition persisted.
Charmaine’s painting pays homage to these women, the body paint adorning their breasts symbolising their role as educators and guides.
Through each brushstroke and colour choice, her connection to this ancestral story is vividly expressed. Love, heritage, and the legacy of storytelling converge in this artwork—a testament to the enduring strength of tradition and the bonds that tie generations together.
Copyright of Pwerle Gallery 2023.
Charmaine Pwerle x The Rug Collection:
The latest collaboration between Charmaine Pwerle and The Rug Collection features a four-piece collection of hand-woven rugs celebrating the Pwerle Gallery artist’s work. The collection transports the narratives of Pwerle’s ancestral Dreamtime into the heart of the home, inspiring a universal spirit of connection through each design.
“I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to display my artwork in a form like this,” says Pwerle, who continues the Pwerle family’s renowned artistic legacy encompassing her mother Barbara Weir and grandmother Minnie Pwerle. “I’ve been painting for a while and I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity to be able to share my work with people to enjoy.”
In early 2021, in collaboration with The Rug Collection and Pwerle Gallery, Charmaine Pwerle was the next featured artist for her own rug collection. An Indigenous rug collection that pays homage to Dreamings, Country and Ancestors. The creations are very close to Charmaine’s heart, as each piece is named after her four daughters; Malangka, Kwerralya, Akarley and Anjurra. Each name has been chosen and passed down to them from their ancestors, all of which, have a deep connection and meaning to the country.
Charmaine Pwerle is certainly an established artist, with her works being sourced for prominent collections worldwide.
2023 Atnwengerrp – Our Home. Our Country, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2023 Central Desert Showcase, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2022 Colours of the Desert, Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney
2022 Connection, National Museum of Australia, Canberra
2022 Into the Sunset, Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney
2022 Colour Pop, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2022 Art Mob’s 20th Birthday Exhibition, Art Mob, Hobart
2022 Palya – a tribute to Steve Ariston, Art Mob, Hobart
2020 Pwerle Gallery x Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute‘Atnwengerrp – Our Apmere, Our Place’ in celebration of Tandanya’s 30th year anniversary, Adelaide.
2020 Colours of Spring, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2020 Top Ten – Our Most Popular Artists 2019, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2019 Summer Show & Art Parade, Salt, Queenscliff, VIC.
2019 BP Centenary Celebration Exhibition (touring nationally).
2019 defining tradition | black + white, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2019 International Women’s Day, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2019 defining tradition | the colourists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2018 Pwerle Gallery ‘Utopia exhibition of four generations’, Adelaide.
2018 Mercedes Me x Pwerle Gallery Art Exhibition at Mercedes Me Melbourne.
2018 Spring Colours, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2018 My Country, Salt, Queenscliff, VIC.
2018 Earth’s Creation, Emily Kame and Family, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2018 Utopia Women, Merricks Art Gallery, Merricks, VIC.
2017 Atnwengerrp Revisited, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney.
2017 Sacred Marks, JGM Gallery, London.
2017 Utopia: the artists of Delmore Downs, Yaama Ganu Gallery, Moree.
2016 Winter Salon, Whistlewood, Shoreham, VIC.
2015 Sixteen Artists, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle.
2015 Alpitye Art Studio, Alice Springs.
2014 Far North-Great South, Le Mans Contemporary Arts (MAC), Collegiate Church of St Pierre La Cour, Paris, France.
2012 Heirs and Successors, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle.
2021 Ravenswood Art Prize – Finalist
2018 Paddington Art Prize – Finalist