Emily Kam Kngwarray

c.1910 - 1996


Region: North Eastern Central Australia (Utopia)
Residence: Soakage Bore
Country: Alhalkere
Language: Anmatyerr

Emily Kam Kngwarray was an Eastern Anmatyerr speaker born at Alhalkere, a small soakage at Utopia. She was the adopted daughter of Jacob Jones, an important Lawman in the Allure community, and was a leader in the women's ceremonial business at Utopia. Emily emerged as an artist while in her late 70s, which makes the immense success of her career all the more impressive. Emily was an adult before she was to meet the white settlers who took up pastoral leases in and around Utopia.

From 1977, Emily Kam Kngwarray, along with other artists from Utopia, engaged in batik as a means of expressing traditional stories and designs. These pieces were later exhibited both in Australia and overseas. In 1988/9, Emily moved to painting on canvas, a medium which better accommodated her highly energetic and expressive style. Emily's first painted canvas was for A Summer Project undertaken in1988 - 1989. Her individual style of heavy brushstrokes and bold colours broke away from the iconographic dotted canvases being produced in the Western Desert, and in doing so she was received as a contemporary abstractionist rather than a 'tribal' painter. She developed distinctive skeletal linear formations which were then overlaid with heavy dots, the result of which was a highly abstracted work. These meandering underlines disappeared from her work during the early 1990s, when she began to use radiant colour fields of dots across the canvas to signify 'merne' or in her meaning, everything - the plants and flowers of her desert country.

'Whole lot, that's all, whole lot, awelye [my Dreaming], arlatyeye [pencil yam], ankerrthe [mountain devil lizard], ntange [grass seed], dingo, ankerre [emu], intekwe [small plant, emu food], atnwerle [green bean] and kame [yam seed]. that's what I paint, whole lot'' (Emily Kam Kngwarray). From about 1994 she began more gestural work, using elegant, fluid colour lines and brush marks evoking Awelye - body designs derived from women's ceremonies. In 1995, she produced Yam Dreamings composed of black and white intertwining lines. Finally, a few weeks before her death in 1996 she painted in broad sweeping slabs of lush pure colour.

The legacy of Emily's prolific and highly successful artistic career has been significant among both Aboriginal artists and the wider community. She is widely regarded as one of the most notable Australian artists of the twentieth century. Her paintings are held in all major museums and galleries in Australia and in significant contemporary collections in America, Europe and Britain. In 1997, the year after her death, her work represented Australia at the Venice Biennale.


Please be aware that historically from time to time, Emily's name has been spelt incorrectly as Emily Kame Kngwarrey / Emily Kame Kngwarreye. As an Anmatyerr woman, the correct spelling for her name is Emily Kam Kngwarray. For Alyawarr speakers, the spelling is Kngwarrey; as set out by linguist Jenny Green. 

Please see Jenny Green's table here for the most current accepted spellings of skin names for the Central Desert area.



''Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye'', National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan; National Art Center, Tokyo; National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Emily Kame Kngwarreye 'Alhalkere' paintings from Utopia,
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

''Emily'', De Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Earth's Creation, The Paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye'', Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne

Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Body Painting Series'', Robert Steele Gallery, New York, USA; Anima Gallery, Adelaide

Emily Kame Kngwarreye: The First Ochres'', Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne

First Solo Exhibition'', Utopia Art, Sydney



Emily Kame Kngwarreye and her Legacy: Visions of Utopia that Penetrate the Soul of the Eastern Desert'', Art Front Gallery Hillside Forum, Tokyo, Japan

LandMarks'', Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square, Melbourne

''PRISM: Contemporary Australian Art'', Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo, Japan

Colour Power: Aboriginal Art Post 1984'', Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square, Melbourne; National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Utopia: Ancient Cultures New Forms'', Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

Australian Contemporary Art in Prague'', Toskansky Place, Prague, Czech Republic

''Spirit Country: Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art'', touring throughout Japan

Australian Modern'', Fondazione Mudima, Milan, Italy

Dreamtime: The Dark and the Light'', Kunst der Gegenwart, Sammlung Essl, Vienna, Austria

''Utopia Art'', University of the Sunshine Coast, Library Gallery, Brisbane

Of My Country'', Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo

Utopia: Ancient Cultures New Forms'', Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

''Raiki Warra: Long Cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait'', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Museum and Art Galley of Northern Territory, Darwin; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

''Fluent: La Biennale Di Venezia 1997 (47th)'', Australian Pavilion, La Biennale Di Venezia, Venice, Italy

Spirit and Place'', Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

''The Eye of the Storm: Eight Contemporary Indigenous Australian Artists'', National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

''Dots'', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

''Nangara: The Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition from the Ebes Collection'', Stiching Sint-Jan, Brugge, Belgium

Stories: A Journey Around Big Things: From the Holmes à Court Collection'', traveling throughout Germany

The Land'', National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

''Yirbana: An Introduction to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection'', The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

''Power of the Land: Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art'', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

''Dreamings: Tjukurrpa: Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert: The Donald Khan Collection'', Museum Villa Stück, Munich, Germany

Aratjara: Art of the First Australians'', Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westialen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek

''First National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Art Award Exhibition'', Old Parliament House, Canberra

''Traumzeit (Dreamtime)'', Banque Indosuez, Zurich, Switzerland

Modern Art: Ancient Icon: A Gallery of Dreamings from Aboriginal Australia'', World Bank, Washington DC, USA

''Crossroads - Towards A New Reality'', National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan

''My Story My Country: Aboriginal Art and the Land'', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Aboriginal Women's Exhibition'', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

''Aborginal Paintings from the Desert'', Union of Soviet Artists Gallery, Moscow, Russia; Museum of Ethnographic Art, St Petersburg, Russia

''New Acquistions'', National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

''Utopia, A Picture Story: 88 Batiks from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection'', Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute Inc., Adelaide

''Mythscapes'', Aboriginal Art of the Desert, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

''CAAMA/Utopia Artist in Residence Project: Louie Pwerle and Emily Kame Kngwarreye'', Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), Perth

''Contemporary Aboriginal Art'', Utopia Art, Sydney

Australian Creative Fellowship

Achievements, Collections & Commissions


Australian Creative Fellowship


Allen, Allen & Hemsley, Sydney

Artbank, Sydney

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand

Benalla Art Gallery, Victoria

Coventry Collection, Sydney

Donald Kahn Collection, Austria

Ebes Collection, Melbourne

Fred Torres Collection, Adelaide

Kelton Foundation, Los Angeles

K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines, AmsterdamLauraine Diggins Collection, Melbourne

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Queensland Art Gallery, BrisbaneRobert Scarborough Collection, Melbourne

The Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs

The Robert Holmes a Court Collection. Perth

The Vatican Collection, Rome

University of Sydney Union, Sydney



A.T.S.I.C., Through Women's Eyes - Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies

Boulter, Michael, The Art of Utopia; A New Direction in Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991

Brassington, Pat, Painting from the Desert, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1990

Brody, Anne Marie, Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection, (catalogue) Heytesbury Holdings, Perth, 1990

Caruana, Wally, Aboriginal Art, World of Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990

Crumlin, Rosemary, Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, Collins Dove, Melbourne, 1991

Isaacs, Jennifer; Smith, Terry; Ryan, Judith; Holt, Donald, Holt, Janet; Emily Kame Kngwarreye paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998

Johnson, Vivien, 'Twentieth Century Dreaming; Contemporary Aboriginal Art', Art and Asia Pacific, vol. 1, no. 1, 1993

Johnson, Vivien, The Dictionary of Western Desert Artists, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1994

Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Earth's Creation- The Paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Malakoff Fine Art Press, Victoria, 1998

Luthi, Bernhardt, Aratjara; Art of the First Australians (catalogue), Dusseldorf, 1993

Lynn, Victoria, Abstraction, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990

Lowe Art Museum, Australian Aboriginal Art from the Collection of Donald Kahn, University of Miami, Miami, 1991

Neale, Margo (ed.), Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra, 2008

Queensland Art Gallery, Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Alhalkere, Paintings From Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery and Macmillan Publishers, Victoria, 1998

Smith, Terry, 'Rethinking Regionalism', Art in the Northern Territory', Art and Australia, vol. 31, no. 4, Winter 1994

The Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings, Catalogue published for Nangara, the Australian Aboriginal Art Exhibition from the Ebes Collection, Volume 1 - The Text, 1996

Uchiyama, T., Crossroads - Towards a New Reality; Aboriginal Art from Australia (catalogue), The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto