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Minnie Pwerle, Women's Ceremonies

Minnie Pwerle, Awelye

The Artist 

Minnie was born  near Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs in the Sandover region in Central Australia.1 Minnie's particular country was known as Atnwengerrp.2

Minnie is believed to have been born around the early 1920s although this date varies depending on sources.3 The uncertainty arises because Indigenous Australians often estimate dates of birth by comparison with other events, especially for those born before contact with European Australians. Minnie was of the Anmatyerre and Alyawarre language groups and was one of six children.4

In about 1945, Minnie had an affair with a married man, Jack Weir. At the time, the relationship was considered to be illegal and the  pair were jailed. Jack died shortly after his release and left Minnie with a child which was partly raised by Minnie's sister in law, artist Emily Kngwarreye. At the age of nine, Barbara was forcibly taken from her family by the Native Welfare Patrol.  The family were reunited in the late 1960s when Barbara went to seek out her family heritage but she did not form a close bond with Minnie.6

Minnie had  six further children with her husband 'Motorcar' Jim Ngala, including Aileen, Betty, Raymond and Dora Mpetyane, and two others who by 2010 had died.   Her grandchildren include Fred Torres, who founded private art gallery DACOU in 1993 and artist Teresa Purla (or Pwerle).7

Minnie began painting in late 1999 when she was almost 80. When asked why she had not begun earlier (painting and batik works had created at Utopia for over 20 years), her daughter Barbara Weir reported Minnie's answer as being  that 'no-one had asked her'.8   Minnie continued to live with her family at the Arlparra Store, Utopia until she passed away in 2006.9

Awelye by Minnie Pwerle

The Work of Art

This colourful work of art is a blend of different ideas that include women's ceremonies, bush-tucker and bush melon dreaming. Pwerle's brushwork imitates the finger painting used to apply designs to dancers and singers. 10  As with other contemporary artists of the central and western deserts, her paintings included depictions of stories of feature for which she had responsibility within her family or clan such as Awelye dreaming  (Women's dreaming).14  Indigenous art expert Jenny Green believes Minnie's work continues the tradition of 'gestural abstractionism' established by Emily Kngwarreye, which contrasted with the use of recognisable traditional motifs such as animal tracks in the works of Western Desert artists.15

Other Works of Art

Although this is the only example of Minnie Pwerle's work within the UC Collection, the University has about fifty works of art by Indigenous artists including Emily Kngwarreye's Awelye.

Awelye by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

References

1 The Aboriginal Art Store, 'Minnie Pwerle', The Aboriginal Art Store, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/artists/minnie-pwerle/

2 Ibid

3 Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, 'Minnie Pwerle'  Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://pwerle.com.au/minnie-pwerle

4 The Aboriginal Art Store, 'Minnie Pwerle', The Aboriginal Art Store, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/artists/minnie-pwerle/

5 Ibid

6 Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, 'Minnie Pwerle'  Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://pwerle.com.au/minnie-pwerle

7 Ibid

8 Ibid

9 Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, 'Minnie Pwerle'  Pwerle Aboriginal Art Gallery, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://pwerle.com.au/minnie-pwerle

10 Note: Taken from the Certificate of Authenticity, Mason Aust. Pty Limited. Artist's File, Curator's Cabinet, University of Canberra.

11 The Aboriginal Art Store, 'Minnie Pwerle', The Aboriginal Art Store, Accessed 2nd May 2022, https://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/artists/minnie-pwerle