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Abie Loy Kemarre is a traditional Anmatyerre woman and a custodian for her country of Ilyentye
(Alhalhere) at Utopia. Her main Dreaming is for akatyerre, sometimes called desert raisin, wild sultana
or bush tomato (Solanum centrale). It is a small, nutrient-rich fruit that is still abundant and available
most of the year. The plant has beautiful purple flowers and green leaves. Aboriginal people eat the
fruit raw or grind it into a paste and roll it into balls to dry and store.
Abie began painting in 1994 under the guidance of her grandmother, the late, highly acclaimed
Kathleen Petyarre, one of the famous seven sisters. Like her grandmother, Abie is a highly sophisticated
and talented artist, and her paintings have lyrical, intricately stylized rhythms and delicate dots that
reference the akatyerre and her ancestral country of Ilyentye. They have a magical, optical shimmer
and a rich cultural and spiritual iconography. She was one of the original women who worked in batik
and her batiks have been exhibited in Bali. Abie has twice been selected as a finalist in the prestigious
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Her paintings are in public and private
Australian and international collections.

Utopia is a remote Aboriginal outstation in the semi-arid centre of Australia, approximately 300 kilometres
northeast of Alice Springs, where sixteen small, family-based Anmatyerre and Alyawarre language-speaking
communities live on 3500 kilometres of land. In the 1920s, two British settlers took the land by force from
their ancestors, made it a cattle station, and called it Utopia because of the abundance of rabbits, an
environmentally disastrous introduced animal. In 1978, Utopia became the first Aboriginal outstation in Australia
to have a successful Land Rights claim.
Aboriginal Australians have the longest, land-based culture in the world, over 65,000 years, and are
custodians for specific places that they call ‘country’. Their oral culture holds extraordinary ecological
knowledge and experiential wisdom that the people continue to pass on to new generations. They have long
drawn patterns in the sand and painted patterns on their bodies with ochres during separate ritual men’s and women’s ceremonies.
The women of Utopia come together for awelye ceremonies to re-animate the land, ensure perpetuation of plant and animal species, and for the people's health and happiness. Over many days and nights, they ‘sing up’
country, ‘paint up’ their bodies with ochre designs, do ritual dances, and tell Dreaming stories to
new generations of young girls.
The contemporary Aboriginal art movement is very recent. In 1977, many of the Utopia women
participated in a batik workshop, and even though it was a labour-intensive process, it became a
popular communal activity. They used small tjanting tools and hot wax melted on open fires while
collecting bush tucker. When acrylic paints were distributed at Utopia in 1988, the medium became
more popular because they were an easier and more versatile medium to use. It is still women who
primarily paint at Utopia and they depict their Dreamings and women’s awelye body painting

© Copyright Dr. Victoria King 2023.

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