Art / “Emily Kam Kngwarray”. At the National Gallery of Australia until April 28, 2024. Reviewed by BARRINA SOUTH.
THE National Gallery’s summer blockbuster “Emily Kam Kngwarray” is a significant retrospective of one of Australia’s most celebrated artists.
The exhibition is curated by Kelli Cole, Warumungu and Luritja peoples, of the National Gallery and Hetti Perkins, Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples.
Cole and Perkins consulted extensively with Kngwarray’s family and community, with the assistance of Utopia Art Centre and regional art centre peak body, Desart. At the media launch it was wonderful to see both curators alongside a group of women who had travel to be part of the opening. Each of them connected to Kngwarray and spoke fondly of her and her art practice.
The strength of the exhibition is that it is the first survey of Kngwarray’s work to be held in a major institution since 2008 guided by community knowledge and curatorial leadership of Cole and Perkins. This collaboration has strengthened the galley’s relationship with Kngwarray’s community and in turn resulted in what as Cole describes “an immersive audio tour that features soundscapes and the songs of the awely (women’s ceremony), and uncovers the incredible artistic quality, legacy and cultural impact that Kngwarray’s works brings to life”.
People will journey beyond the artworks, into the heart of Utopia and discover an art movement that emerged from this extraordinary Country.
The visitor will be awestruck by the number of artworks produced by Kngwarray from early vibrant batiks to her later monumental paintings. Many never-before-seen works are included in this exhibition, along with new acquisitions of Kngwarray’s seminal works in the national collection.
For me, the number of artworks on show, artworks that have multilayered, powerful imagery and with every brush stroke, paint the spiritual landscape and ancestral narratives, was overwhelming. I was enthralled by each artwork but would have benefited from the exhibition having space dedicated for reflection be it photographs of the Country depicted, key elements from the catalogue or photographs of the community consultation.
There is a space dedicated to awely but that, too, is immensely powerful in subject matter. Visitors won’t be disappointed with the exhibition and, as always, the summer exhibitions at the National Gallery are a perfect way to spend time with visiting family and friends over the festive season.
Following this presentation, the National Gallery will collaborate with Tate Modern to stage a major Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition in London in 2025. I, for one, am interested in how the exhibition will be received outside of Australia.
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