aboriginal artist: Minnie Pwerle

View artworks by Minnie Pwerle

(c. 1920- 2006)

Minnie passed away on 18th March 2006 at her home in Atnwengerrp. She is survived by her children, grand children, great grand children, and siblings Margie, Molly, Emily, Geyla, Lois, Ally and Louie.

Many of Minnie’s paintings reflect possibly the oldest designs of art in the world; the body painting for women’s ceremony – Awely. These are linear designs that are painted onto the chest, breasts, arms and thighs. Powders ground from red ochre (clay) and ash are used, applied with a flat stick with soft padding. This stick is called a “typale”. During the ceremony, Minnie and the women would sing the songs associated with their awely, paint each other and dance. Awely ceremonies are performed to demonstrate respect for the country and the total well-being and health of the community.

Minnie also painted the Dreamtime story of the Anemangkerr (Bush Melon) and also of the Akarley (Wild Orange), which are represented in her paintings by “a-lube-eh-ditch” loops.

Her works are very bold and free flowing and immediately capture the attention of art lovers. Having never been taught art by way of European methods, nor having visited museums and contemporary art galleries, Minnie was one of Australia’s top female contemporary Indigenous artists. Her paintings are loved for being so modern in style and yet so traditional and raw in subject.

Minnie was born in Alyawarr country, approximately 200 kilometers north east of Alice Springs, in approximately 1920. Speaking very little of the English language, Minnie made a bold, swift and unexpected entry into the European world of Australia in 2000 through painting. Minnie’s eldest daughter, Barbara Weir, born in 1945, was taken away at the age of 9 but they were both reunited in the late 1960’s. For many years Minnie detached herself from Barbara. Sorry business had been done for her many years before and it was hard for Minnie to welcome a stranger claiming to be her daughter. Their lives were so different.

Minnie had earlier married an Aboriginal man by the name of Motorcar Jim, and had six children; Aileen, Betty, Raymond and Dora Mpetyane (two other daughters passed away and are not spoken of). But it was Barbara who encouraged Minnie to paint in the latter years of her life. Barbara, being an established artist herself, gave Minnie some canvas and paints while she waited for Barbara to finish painting at a workshop in Adelaide. Minnie painted what she has always painted – the body paint designs (awely) that belonged to her country, Atnwengerrp. The traditional colours of this country are red ochre and white; however Minnie was excited by the vast amount of colours in front of her, and never looked back. When asked numerous times if Minnie enjoyed painting, Minnie’s family always replied for her with wholehearted conviction “absolutely”. And very evident it was in her enthusiasm to paint and in her work, her freedom of brushstroke and fervour of colour.