Emily Kame Kngwarreye / Australia c.1910­–96 / Anmatyerre people / Utopia panel 1996 / Anmatyerre people / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 262.8 x 84.7cm / Commissioned 1996 with funds from the Andrew Thyne Reid Charitable Trust through, and with the assistance of, the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 1996. Licensed by Viscopy

Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Utopia panel 1996

On Display: QAG, Gallery 13

Commissioned by the Gallery in 1996 and completed in April 1996, ‘Utopia’ is a series of 18 separate panels produced by Emily Kame Kngwarreye during the final year of her life. The series is one of her last and truly great works.

Although she engaged in ceremonial body-painting and mark making all her life, it was not until the early 1980s, after taking part in a community batik-making project in the 1970s, that Kngwarreye started painting with Western materials.

This work is representative of her later vigorous works which she executed in a rapid confident motion. Horizontal black stripes sear the canvas and map the body-painting used in Awelye — women’s public song ceremonies.1

Despite the stylistic variations, all of Kngwarreye’s work is about one story — Alhalkere — her country, her people, her dreamings. The panels are among her boldest expressions — raw, gutsy and tough — and evoke the confidence and unique vision that characterise Kngwarreye’s short career as a contemporary Aboriginal artist.


1 Myfany Turpin, ‘Song-poetry of Central Australia: Sustaining traditions’, Language Documentation and Description, vol. 10, 2012, pp. 15–36.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye was an eastern Anmatyerre speaker and leader of the women’s ceremony of the Utopia region, which is located on the north-west edge of the Simpson Desert in the Northern Territory. She lived off the land, according to the cultural and religious practices of her people, and did seasonal work on cattle stations in the area.

Her art gained recognition after a Sydney exhibition in 1988, and in 1989 she was awarded the Robert Holmes à Court Foundation scholarship. Following her first solo exhibition, the Australia Council awarded her the Australian Artists Creative Fellowship Award. Kngwarreye’s paintings have been exhibited in almost every major Aboriginal art exhibition since the late 1980s and are held in all major state collections.

Kngwarreye died in September 1996. In a painting career spanning less than a decade, she has become known nationally and internationally as one of the most important and influential painters in Australia.