Emily Kngwarreye painting 'Yam Awelye', at Delmore, August 24, 1995
Posted on February 14 2018
1995 was a creative and exciting year for Emily Kame Kngwarreye at Delmore. In early April, searching for fresh inspiration, Emily asked Don Holt for the materials to create some works on paper in the same vein as the prints she had produced earlier with Studio 1 from Canberra and Theo Tremblay. Once she began, Emily quickly discarded the paper and proceeded to paint in the style of her early prints on primed linen. The result was the first of her 'Yam' paintings. Initially painting white lines on a black background for several weeks, then changing to black lines on a white canvas.
In June, Emily asked the Delmore team for 'more colour, whole lot' and began to create an exciting profusion of coloured yam paintings. From then on, she would rotate between white, black and coloured lines, usually painting with the same palette one day and changing the next, occasionally reverting to an earlier style for one painting, just for a change, then continuing on to 'take the line for a walk'.
The Yam and the Emu were Emily's primary Dreamings inherited from her grandfather; the yam was a vital food-source in drought, as well a part of the staple diet for the Anmatyerre and Alyawarre people. It was a food that they shared with Jessie Holt's family. In 1932, Jessie's brothers, Mac and Don, at the invitation of Jacob (who was the father of Lily Sandover, Joy and Freddy Kngwarreye and others), rode over 120 kilometres with packhorses to the Sandover River flood out to collect several hundred kilos of wild yams to share with everyone over the following month.
On the morning of August 23, 1995, Don Holt built a five metre wide frame from left over building materials and stretched it. Later that afternoon, Annabel Holt, who had just turned 9, primed the painting after school. On Sunday August 24, Emily and Lily arrived early in the morning after several days "holiday" collecting wild honey (sugar bag) and cooking a big lizard on a fire next to the "talking tree", near the Delmore homestead. Don talked with Emily about painting the big, five metre long canvas that he intended to give to the National Gallery in Canberra. Emily asked, 'Will the Prime Minister see it?' When given the affirmative answer, she set to her work on Yam Awelye with gusto, occasionally pausing to drink water or chat with Lily Sandover Kngwarreye who was painting nearby, next to the black and white lined Big Yam Dreaming, learning against the wall and soon to be gifted to The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
Don Holt with Kelvin Templeton in front of Emily Kame Kngwarreye's, 'Yam Awelye', donated to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, by the Holt Family. Copyright of Delmore Gallery.
Yam Awelye was another masterpiece, part of Emily's wonderful legacy, that has travelled widely in retrospective exhibitions to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Osaka and Tokyo.
Emily was unique, she broke new ground, in searching for her roots she led the way, creating an exciting new way of seeing her culture and a new perception by the rest of the art world of Aboriginal art.
Main image: Emily Kngwarreye painting "Yam Awelye" on the verandah at Delmore, August 1995. Copyright of Delmore Gallery.