Alkawari Dawson, a senior Ngaanyatjarra artist, was born around 1930 in the bush at Tjun Tjun rockhole near Warburton in West Australia. As a child she lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle with her family in the country around the Warburton Ranges. Walking long distances through the desert she acquired an intimate understanding of the environment, the tjukurpa connected with it and traditional knowledge which was vital to survival. Alkawari spent some time camped at the mission at Warburton where she attended school before getting married and giving birth to her eldest daughter. After the death of her first husband Alkawari married Nyakul Dawson and moved to Irrunytju where she raised three more children. Her paintings engage with the Kalaya Wati Tjukurpa (Ema Man Dreaming), the tjukurpa mulapa (true dreaming) that relates to the country of her birth.
Alkawari often paints a fragment of the tjukurpa that takes place in the night at kalaya ngura (emu place) beside a large rockhole called Tjukarta Tjukarta. The minyma were lying beside the rockhole trying to sleep. They were restless because a wati liru (snake man) was moving about in the shadows nearby with a lot of baby snakes. All of the camp dogs were asleep except for one that was stalking several baby emus. The wati and minyma kalaya (men and women emus) were agitated and worried for their tjitji (children) who were running in all directions then cowered in a wiltja for shelter.
Using a dark background, a vibrant colour palette and a wide range of expressive brushstrokes and punu marks, Alkawari evokes the darkness and fears of the night in her paintings. The locations of the rockhole, the women’s camp, the wiltja and tjukurpa tracks are incorporated into the structure of the work. Erratic emu tracks, writhing lines, sprays of dots and intense colours suggest snakes and mamus (devils or monsters) lurking in deep shadows; sparks from camp fires; shining dogs’ eyes; and the helter-skelter panic of baby emus.

Knights, Mary
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