ARTIST: Janet Golder Kngwarreye
TITLE: Women’s Body Paint
LANGUAGE/REGION: Utopia, Australia
YEAR: 2014
DIMENSIONS: 960mm x 570mm
MEDIUM: synthetic polymer paints on canvas

Janet Golder Kngwarreye was born in Utopia, Northern Territory, Australia around 1973. Originally from Boundary Bore (Atneltye), Janet is the daughter of Margaret Golder and Sammy Pitjara. She is the granddaughter of Old Henry Pitjara, Angelina Ngale and Polly Ngale.

Janet continues an esteemed dynasty of famous Aboriginal artists from Utopia with her grandfather being Kudditji Kngwarreye and her great auntie is Emily Kame Kngwarreye and grandmother Polly Ngale. However, despite these influences, Janet still produces artworks that are individual and unique to her. They are colourful and harmonious depicting body paint, bush medicine leaves and bush tucker in an array of intertwined colours. She achieves this by combining multiple colours into each brushstroke adding depth, texture and visually appealing reinforcing the creative spirit running through her strong artistic blood.

Janet Golder Kngwarreye is married to Ronnie Bird Jungula, who is the son of famed artist Ada Bird Petyarre (passed away 2010). They have several children and with their respective extended families, they live a happy family life travelling between Alice Springs and Utopia.

The Artwork:

Women’s Body Paint – Awelye

Typically entitled ‘Women’s Body Paint’, Awelye –  is the Anmatyerre word for women’s ceremonies. Awelye is a woman’s Dreaming associated with women’s business for sacred ceremonies specifically referring to women’s designs painted on their bodies – women’s ceremonial body paint.

Janet Golder Kngwarreye’s art represents the paint typically painted on the women’s breasts during the sacred ceremonies. The arched curves expresses the shapes painted on the women’s chest and décolletage. The Dreamings painted on the body may represent animals, plants, healing and law. It is the senior women who apply the paint onto the younger generation passing on history, values, and traditions to be carried on long after they’ve gone.

Awelye is a spiritual, sensuous and meditative performance that makes connections with the fertility of the land and a celebration of womanhood. Awelye is women’s business and is never done in the presence of men. Awelye symbolises the importance of the role of women in Aboriginal culture and the performances through song and dance by the Aboriginal women, in this case , Janet and her immediate and extended family members. It is performed to recall their ancestors and show respect for their country.

Awelye demonstrates the women’s responsibility for the wellbeing of their community as nurturers of the land and their country. The act of Awelye, be it applying paint on each other, dancing, chanting, eating, for Aboriginal women, Awelye is a rite of passage. Aboriginal beliefs stipulate that the very act of decorating the body transforms the individual and changes their identity.

The Awelye ceremony begins with the women painting each others’ bodies in designs relating to a particular women’s Dreaming and in accordance with their skin name and tribal hierarchy. Ochre, charcoal and ash are ground to powder consistency and this becomes the women’s body paint that is applied for up to three hours using a flat stick with padding or applied directly with  fingers in raw linear and curved lines. The final part of the ceremony is when the women dance and chant.

Awelye could claim to be one of the oldest living art forms in the world as Aboriginal women have been applying body paint for thousands of years.

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