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Genius of Place: The work of Kathleen Petyarre

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


09 May 2001 to 22 Jul 2001

Curator: Russell Storer

Curatorial Advisor: Christine Nicholls

About the exhibition

Genius of Place was the first major survey of the work of the Aboriginal Australian artist Kathleen Petyarre. Born Kweyetwemp Petyarre, around 1940, she lived in the Atnangker Country of her family until they were forcibly moved to the settlement of Utopia, also in the Northern Territory. Petyarre began working as an assistant teacher at a school in Utopia and was introduced to the batik style of painting.

In remote communities a rebirth in artistic production mirrored the Aboriginal land rights campaigns of the 1970s. Petyarre was involved in a land claim which successfully returned the land surrounding Utopia to its traditional owners. Petyarre’s work reflects the social context within which she was working; each of her works is an expression of her inalienable connection with Atnangker Country and its associated Dreaming. Petyarre’s speed of production increased as she started working with acrylic on canvas and in 1989 she left teaching in order to devote all of her time to painting. Petyarre’s indefatigable approach to her artistic practice resulted in her recognition as a senior artist and receiving many prestigious awards.

Genius of Place featured over 40 works from 25 years of Petyarre’s career. The paintings, batiks and works on paper reflected the Central Dreaming narrative Arnkerrth (Old Woman Mountain or Thorny Devil Lizard) which Petyarre inherited from her father and grandfather. This representation of Dreaming allowed her to image the ever-changing nature of her Country, from sandstorms and hailstorms to the windswept watercourses, rock holes and sand hills which dot her Central Australia homeland.

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of MCA Ambassadors.