Atham-Areny Story: Angelina Pwerle

30 July - 30 August 2008 London

Born in 1952 on the Utopia cattle station in the arid desert region north-east of Alice Springs, Angelina Pwerle is now recognized as one of the leading artists of the Aboriginal Central Desert tradition. Her work is held in many public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Holmes a Court Collection and the National Gallery of Art, Osaka, Japan. 


Pwerle's artistic career began in the early 1980s when she was involved in a ground-breaking batik-painting project established at Utopia by Toly Sawenko and Jenny Green. Later, as the desert painting movement spread across Central Australia, she started painting in acrylic on canvas. It is a medium that has given her great scope to evolve her distinctive colour-sense, and her command of design. Amongst Pwerle's recurrent motifs are stories relating to women's ceremonies and bush-foods - especially the bush plum or 'anwekety'. 


During a trip home to Utopia in January 2003, Pwerle visited the site of the atham-areny story. Atham-areny are small creatures that live outside the ambit of the camp-fire. 'Atham' means 'no fire' in the Anmatyerre language. They are spirits of mischief, liable to steal children who stray too far from the fire, or to cause illness. To exorcise their influence women perform ceremonial dances. Pwerle subsequently began to re-tell the story in her paintings, depicting women, either singly or in groups, preparing to perform their ceremonial dance. The current exhibition is drawn from this remarkable series of images.