Emily Kam Kngwarray Shines Bright In National Gallery's Major Summer Exhibition

Emily Kam Kngwarray's timeless art showcased in National Gallery's summer exhibition.

By: Nov. 29, 2023
Emily Kam Kngwarray Shines Bright In National Gallery's Major Summer Exhibition
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Emily Kam Kngwarray Shines Bright In National Gallery's Major Summer Exhibition

Emily Kam Kngwarray shines bright in National Gallery's major summer exhibition

A significant retrospective of one of Australia's most celebrated artists, Emily Kam Kngwarray, opens this weekend at the National Gallery of Australia.

Bringing together works created over the span of her short but extraordinary career, this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Kngwarray's timeless art, from the heart of the Country, in one unforgettable experience. Showing between 2 December 2023 and 28 April 2024.

This is the first survey of Kngwarray's work to be held in a major institution since 2008, providing a fresh perspective on her art practice, emphasising the ways in which her work draws from, connects to, and is embedded in Country.

Emily Kam Kngwarray, a senior Anmatyerr woman from Utopia (north-east of Mparntwe/Alice Springs), is considered one of the world's most significant contemporary artists to emerge in the twentieth century. Taking up painting in her 70s, Kngwarray devoted her final years to painting, creating works that encapsulate the cultural knowledge, experience and authority she gained throughout an extraordinary life.

Co-curated by Kelli Cole, Warumungu and Luritja peoples, and Hetti Perkins, Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples, Emily Kam Kngwarray brings together the most important works of Kngwarray's career, 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.

National Gallery Director, Dr Nick Mitzevich said this timely exhibition is not to be missed in Kamberri/Canberra this summer.

‘This is one of the most comprehensive and complete exhibitions of Kngwarray's work to be staged in the Country.  Not only was she one of the most significant Australian artists to emerge in the 20th Century, she was also a pioneer in so many ways. She blazed a path for First Nations artists, women artists and Australian artists – her work continues to enthrall audiences around the world,' Mitzevich said.

‘Through her unparalleled talent and deep cultural connections, Kngwarray's works transcend time, inviting audiences to explore the spiritual landscapes and ancestral narratives woven intricately within each stroke.'

In preparing for the exhibition, co-curators Cole and Perkins, along with linguist Dr Jennifer Green, consulted extensively with Kngwarray's family and community, with the assistance of Utopia Art Centre and regional art centre peak body, Desart.

‘We've been working in collaboration with the family and community of Utopia of the Urapuntja homelands in the Sandover Region to offer nuanced analyses that acknowledge both the cultural specificity of Kngwarray's inspiration and the majestic scope of Country and its ancestral inheritances,' Cole said.

‘This invaluable partnership has also resulted in 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 Knwarray's works brings to life. Visitors will journey beyond the artworks, into the heart of Utopia and discover an art movement that emerged from this extraordinary Country.

‘This exhibition is a reminder that the stories and places Kngwarray painted are enduring, the culture that informed them is very much alive.'

Emily Kam Kngwarray opens to the public on Saturday 2 December 2023 and runs until Sunday 28 April 2024. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that privileges the artist's voice, drawing on audio recordings of Kngwarray made in the 1980s and 1990s, to offer new insights into her life and work. The 256-page publication also features original research and reflections from the artist's community, curators and academics.

Following this presentation, the National Gallery of Australia will collaborate with Tate Modern to stage a major Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition in London in 2025.

‘The National Gallery is thrilled to partner with Tate Modern to stage the first large-scale presentation of Emily Kam Kngwarray's work ever held in Europe. The show will further elevate the voices and stories of First Nations artists, women artists and Australian artists to international audiences,' Mitzevich said.

Emily Kam Kngwarray has been made possible through the continued generosity of individual and corporate supporters, including Principal Patrons: Michael Gannon and Helen Gannon; Strategic Partners: ACT Government through VisitCanberra, Seven West Media; Indigenous Art Partner: Wesfarmers Arts; Major Partners: Qantas, Maddocks and ISPT; Major Patrons: Sally White OAM and Geoffrey White OAM; Supporting Partner: Capital Hotel Group; Supporting Patrons: Dr Michael Martin and Elizabeth Popovski, Roslyn Packer AC; Exhibition Patrons: Ilana Atlas AO and Tony D'Aloisio AM, Penelope Seidler AM, The Hon Ashley Dawson-Damer AM, Jason Karas and Anna Baillie-Karas; Cultural Partners: Utopia Arts Centre, Desart (the peak body for Central Australian art centres); Exhibition Supporters: Fiona Martin-Weber and Tom Hayward, The Tall Foundation. A generous philanthropic gift from anonymous benefactors has enabled extensive consultation with the Utopia community and Kngwarray's extended family. 

Kelli Cole, Warumungu and Luritja peoples, Curator, Special Projects, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery of Australia, and Hetti Perkins, Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples, Co-curator, Emily Kam Kngwarray.

Spelling of Emily Kam Kngwarray: In 2010, the Central & Eastern Anmatyerr to English dictionary was published following extensive consultation and research with the community. The National Gallery of Australia has adopted this orthography for its collection and programs.

Media Preview | 30 November at 11am
Exhibition Season | 2 December 2023 to 28 April 2024

$26 Adults | $21 Members | $23 Concession/Student | $11 Child (5 to 16 years) | $16 Mob Tix
Season tickets available for $51
To book, visit this link.

Kngwarray was born around 1914 in her Country, Alhalker. Her art is grounded in her knowledge of Country and of women's awely ceremonies and other cultural practices originating there. Kngwarray's work is inspired by detailed knowledge of the desert ecosystems of the places where she lived throughout her life. Of special significance to Kngwarray are ankerr (emus) and anwerlarr (pencil yams). She was named after kam, the seeds and seedpods of the pencil yam.

Over half a century ago, Aboriginal artists from Central Australia began experimenting with new artistic forms. Emily Kam Kngwarray was in a group of Anmatyerr and Alyawarr women who learnt to make batik at Utopia in 1977. A decade or so later, they began to paint on canvas. For Kngwarray and other artists like her, these developments heralded a new chapter in the ongoing expression of their cultural traditions. Kngwarray was one of the first women at the vanguard of this artistic revolution. Her unique style and powerful creative vision gained worldwide attention and redefined Aboriginal art.

The Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition was developed in close collaboration with the Utopia Art Centre and with Kngwarray's descendants. The works, sourced from public and private collections, follow the development of Kngwarray's artistic career over almost two decades. Included in the exhibition is one of Kngwarray's earliest batiks, her first painting on canvas, and several of Kngwarray's works from the national collection that represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997.

To mark the Gallery's 40th anniversary in 2022, the National Gallery acquired two significant works by Kngwarray, Untitled (awely) 1994 and Alhalker—my Country 1992, with the assistance of the Foundation Gala Dinner Fund 2021.


Utopia Art Centre is 100% Indigenous owned and community directed, supporting emerging and established artists. Located 250kms northeast of Alice Springs, Utopia Art Centre works across 16 remote homelands. It provides a space for intergenerational learning and cultural expression in the Homelands.

Members Preview Afternoon: Emily Kam Kngwarray
Fri 1 Dec, from 2.30pm 2023 | paid, bookings essential
National Gallery Members have the opportunity to be some of the first to experience Emily Kam Kngwarray. Enjoy early access to the exhibition with entry times between 2.30–4pm.

Celebrate the Opening of Emily Kam Kngwarray
Sat 2 Dec, 2023, 10.30am – 4pm | free, drop-in
Join curators Kelli Cole (Warumungu and Luritja peoples, Curator, Special Projects, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art) and Hetti Perkins (Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples, Senior Curator-at-Large, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art) to celebrate the opening.

TALK: Emily Kam Kngwarray and Utopia Art Centre
Sat 2 Dec, 2023, 2pm | paid, bookings essential
Join Kelli Cole (Warumungu and Luritja peoples, Curator, Special Projects, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art) and Hetti Perkins (Arrernte and Kalkadoon peoples, Senior Curator-at-Large, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art), in conversation with artists and women from the Utopia Community and linguist, Dr Jennifer Green, to discuss the exceptional collaborations that made this exhibition possible.

National Visual Arts Conference (NVAEC): Opening Keynote Curator Kelli Cole on Emily Kam Kngwarray
22–24 January 2023, 10.30am | paid, bookings essential
Emily Kam Kngwarray co-curator Kelli Cole will deliver the opening keynote at NVAEC, followed by an exclusive tour of the exhibition alongside National Gallery Educators for onsite participants.

available here.

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CAPTION: Emily Kam Kngwarray, Anmatyerr people, Ntang Dreaming, 1989, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, purchased 1989 © Emily Kam Kngwarray/Copyright Agency