Emily: Desert Painter Of Australia

Whole lot, that’s the whole lot. Awelye (my Dreaming), Arlatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seed), Tingu (a Dream-time pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (a favorite food of emus), Atnwerle (green bean), and Kame (yam seed). That’s what I paint: whole lot. . . . —Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Emily: Desert Painter of Australia installation view. Gagosian Paris. Photograph by Zarko Vijatovic.


In the words of D’Lan Davidson, “D’Lan Contemporary has partnered with Gagosian in a series of collaborative exhibitions over the past few years to revive the visibility outside of Australia for Emily and our leading First Nations artists.”

And, “With the support of Louise Neri, we can continue to build global awareness of Australian First Nations art.”

Read more about Emily: Desert Painter of Australia, now showing at Gagosian Paris:

Indigenous Australians constitute the longest surviving civilization in human history, one that dates back more than 60,000 years. Among Australia’s most revered artists, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910–1996), or Emily, as she became widely known, grew up in the remote central desert region of Utopia, where she had only sporadic contact with the world beyond her own community. While working as a stockhand, she developed her prodigious artistic skills in Utopia settlement workshops—first in traditional batik production and then painting on canvas. While affinities may be perceived and parallels drawn between the art of the so-called Desert painters and other modern artistic idioms, their practices have developed in relative isolation and stem from the oldest continuous art traditions in the world. For Indigenous Australians, “Dreaming” is a cultural worldview that provides an ordered sense of reality, a framework for understanding and interpreting the world and the place of humans within it. This precious knowledge of human life includes survival strategies, ancestral histories, and narratives of the earth and cosmos. “Country” describes the environments that they inhabit, both physically and spiritually, and contains complex ideas about language, governance, family, and identity, among other life-determining practices. Emily’s oeuvre was inspired by her role as an Anmatyerre elder and her custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan Country, Alhalkere. In this cultural context, women’s lore is guarded and passed down through both storytelling and visual media, including designs painted on human bodies, traced in the earth, or carved into rock or tree bark.

Emily: Desert Painter of Australia installation view. Gagosian Paris. Photograph by Zarko Vijatovic.

Inspired by the topographies of desert and sky, the cycles of seasons, flooding waters and rains, cultivation and harvest, and spiritual forces, Emily’s paintings depict the enduring narratives and symbols of her people and their land, and the keeping of precious shared knowledge and stories. Emily’s middle name, Kame, denotes the sustaining pencil yam and its seeds—her totem, and the motivating force of her oeuvre. Emily is unique among Indigenous Australian painters for her rapid and systematic exploration of different styles and for her bold inventiveness with regard to form and color. She painted prolifically on both intimate and grand scales, with brushes, sticks, and fingertips on unstretched linen laid flat on the ground, sitting beside or within the composition itself. Emily’s work was first shown internationally at the 47th Biennale di Venezia in 1997, and since then it has gained deserved critical stature, both locally and internationally, within the greater context of global contemporary painting.

—Louise Neri, Director, Gagosian.

Emily: Desert Painter of Australia installation view. Gagosian Paris. Photograph by Zarko Vijatovic.

Emily’s work is included the following selected public collections:

National Museum of Australia and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria and Museum of Victoria, Melbourne; Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Art Gallery of South Australia and Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide; QAGOMA, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; Tate, London; Museum Ludwig, Koeln; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Seattle Art Museum, Washington; Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, University of Virginia, Charlottesville; Sehwa Museum of Art, South Korea.

Emily: Desert Painter of Australia
January 21 – March 12, 2022
4 rue de Ponthieu, 75008, Paris