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LANGUAGE GROUP: Alyawarre/Anmatyerre
COMMUNITY: Utopia, NT
Minnie Pwerle was an Alyawarre woman born in the Utopia region in the early 1920s. Her country was Atnwengerrp; her languages were Alyawarre and Anmatyerre. She had five sisters: Margie, Molly, Emily, Lois and Galya, and two brothers, Louis and one now deceased. Minnie was married to the late Glory Ngarla’s late brother ‘Motorcar’ Jim, and together they had six children: Eileen, Betty, June and Raymond, and two other daughters who passed away several years ago.
When Minnie was a teenager, she gave birth to her first daughter Barbara Weir. The father was station owner Jack Weir. At the age of eight, considered ‘half-caste’, Barbara was taken from Minnie by the Native Welfare Patrol. Minnie did not see her daughter again until many years later when Barbara returned to Utopia to re-discover her heritage. Barbara is now a well-known Aboriginal artist nationally and internationally.
Minnie did not begin painting until late in 1999. When visiting Barbara in Adelaide, she expressed a desire to paint at Barbara’s son Fred Torres’ DACOU gallery. Presented with canvases, she began to paint a series of linear works with an authority reminiscent of the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye. The finished pieces were bold, vibrant and free flowing. They quickly captured the attention of prominent gallery owners who purchased every canvas Minnie painted. This informal and completely unexpected workshop heralded Minnie’s entrance into mainstream Aboriginal art.
With exhilarating colours and dynamic gestures, Minnie painted two series of artworks: ‘Bush Melon’ or ‘Bush Melon Seed’ which depicted her Dreamings, and ‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’. She was a custodian for her country and her stunning artwork pays homage to her Dreamings, country and ancestors. She draws on an ancient cultural tradition that has used visual gestures and pigments in body painting, rock art and sand painting to express connection to country for thousands of years. Minnie’s canvases sing with indigenous wisdom and contemporary verve.
‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’ represents the ochre designs painted on the top half of women’s bodies for awelye, traditional
women’s ceremonies. On canvas, as in ceremony, Minnie painted mesmerising lines and circles; her U-shapes depict women’s painted breasts. The lively rhythms celebrate and capture the energy and movements of women dancing and singing around open fires in the soft red sand of the desert.
The iconographic interplay between body painting circles and small round bush melons is clearly evident in Minnie’s vibrant paintings of ‘Bush Melon’ and ‘Bush Melon Seed’. They tell the story of this lovely sweet food that comes from a very small bush only found in Atnwengerrp. Bush melons are green in colour and ripen to brown; once abundant, they are now hard to find due to over-grazing.
Utopia women used to collect this fruit in the summer and scrape out the small black seeds. They would eat the fruit or cut it into pieces, skewering them onto a thin piece of wood to dry for the coming months when bush tucker was scarce.
Minnie lived with her children near Arlparra store at Utopia and continued to paint remarkable artworks until her passing in 2006. She is represented in all of the State Galleries of Australia, as well as in many other institutions and private collections. Art Collector named her as “one of Australia’s top 50 most collectible artists”. She truly was one of the greatest of Australian Aboriginal artists.
2021 Desert Colours 2021, Incinerator Art Space, Sydney
2021 We Choose to Challenge, Coo-ee Fine Art Gallery, Sydney
2020 Still in the Desert, Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 International Women’s Day, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Large Showroom; Large Works, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Desert Colours: Central Australian painting from the Collection, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Defining Tradition | the colourists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Matches 6 – Group Exhibition – Featuring Barbara Weir, Ian Bettinson, Jack Britten, Lilly Kelly Napangardi, Minnie Pwerle, Tony Tuckson & Yvonne Mills-Stanley, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2018 Mercedes Me x Pwerle Gallery Art Exhibition at Mercedes Me Melbourne.
2018 Pwerle Gallery ‘Utopia exhibition of four generations’, Adelaide.
2018 Earth’s Creation 2: Emily Kame Kngwarreye & Family, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2018 Delmore Gallery: Utopia Women, Merricks Art Gallery, Merricks
2018 Utopia Exhibition of 4 Generations, One Rundle Trading Co., Adelaide
2017 Gems from the Stockroom, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2017 A SWEEP continues, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2010 ‘Utopia’, group exhibition, DACOU Melbourne, Middle Park, VIC.
2010 ‘Desert Rhythms’, group exhibition, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2010 ‘The Pwerle Sisters’, group exhibition, DACOU Australia & DACOU Melbourne, Port Melbourne & Middle Park, VIC.
2009 ‘Utopia – Colors of the Desert’, Gongpyeong Art Space in conjunction with DACOU, Australian Embassy in Korea and Crossbay Gallery, Seoul, Korea.
2008 ‘Atnwengerrp: Land of Dreaming’, Minnie Pwerle carpet launch, Designer Rugs Showroom, Edgecliffe, NSW.
2008 ‘EWB Elements’, travelling group exhibition, all major cities of Australia, DACOU in conjunction with Dreamtime Art.
2008 ‘Minnie Pwerle – Body Paint’, solo exhibition, DACOU Melbourne, Middle Park, VIC.
2007 ‘Utopia in New York’, Robert Steele Gallery, New York, USA.
2007 ‘Desert Diversity, group exhibition, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2007 ‘New Works from Utopia’, Space Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
2006 ‘The Pwerle Sisters’, group exhibition, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2006 ‘Memorial Exhibition’, solo exhibition, Gallery Savah, Sydney, NSW.
2006 APS Bendi Lango Art Exhibition, group exhibition, Rio Tinto Offices, Melbourne, VIC.
2005 Finalist in the 2005 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.
2004 Named by Art Collector as “one of Australia’s 50 most collectible artists”.
2003 ‘My Grandmother & Me’, World Vision, Walkabout Gallery, Sydney, NSW.
2003 ‘Minnie Pwerle & Mitjili Napurrula’, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, WA.
2003 Art & Soul Gallery, group exhibition, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
2003 ‘Art from the Dreamtime’, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, USA.
2002 ‘United – Mother and Daughter’, with Barbara Weir, Alison Kelly Gallery, Armadale, VIC.
2002 Group exhibition, New York City, USA.
2002 Mbantua Gallery, group exhibition, Alice Springs, NT.
2002 Knut Grothe Galeri, Utopia group exhibition, Charlottlenlund, Copenhagen.
2002 Galerie à Le Temps Du Reve, Utopia group exhibition, Pont-Aven, France.
2002 ‘Minnie’s Country’, DACOU Gallery, Adelaide, SA.
2002 ‘Generations Utopia’, group exhibition, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, Perth, WA.
2002 Selected entrant in the 2002 19th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.
2002 ‘Awelye Atnwengerrp’, solo exhibition, DACOU Gallery, Adelaide, SA.
2002 Urban Wineworks Gallery, Portland, Oregon, USA.
2002 ‘In the Cove’, Carriage House Gallery, Portland, Oregon, USA.
2001 Group exhibition, San Anselmo, Marin County, California, USA.
2001 ‘Small Stories: Minnie Pwerle, Mary Pantjiti McLean, Tumaru Purlykumunu’, Japingka Gallery, Perth, WA.
2001 ‘Desert Colour- My Country’, group exhibition, Raintree Aboriginal Art Gallery, Darwin, NT.
2001 Dreamtime Gallery, group exhibition, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
2001 ‘Women Artists of the Australian Desert’, group exhibition, Gallery 2021, Auckland, New Zealand.
National Gallery of Victoria
Art Gallery of NSW
Queensland National Gallery
Art Gallery of South Australia
La Trobe University
Thomas Vroom Collection
John McBride Collection
Hank Ebes Collection
Fred Torres Collection