Indigenous Art of the Dreamtime
In the 1990s Ada Bird Petyarre reminds us that so much of desert art originated in body painting designs. During the decade 1989-99 her painting, now in acrylic on canvas, has come to rely more and more on linear pattern making which at times has the frail quality of ochre or clay on flesh. Her paintings provide one of the last significant links with womens ceremonial knowledge. It is her fervent hope that the rising generation will continue to paint, dance and sing in the manner of her own ancestors. To this end Ada uses her art to instruct, teach and demonstrate to young women the ways of their parents, grandparents and beyond. Her art appears to be simple, direct and lacking in preciousness. It is, nevertheless, this rawness which speaks clearly of her knowledge of the land, her people and their ceremonies.
Ada, born on a section of the old Utopia Station at Atangkere, c 1930, remains a significant member of one of the most important groups to develop out of desert painting - the Utopia women. Initially this group, in which Ada played such a prominent part, produced desert designs on silk and cotton with the batik technique. These art works were produced first in 1977, the very year that the Anmatyerre and Alyawarre people began moving back on to their traditional land at Utopia Station where they resettled in a variety of outstations. The success of the batik movement led eventually to the artists - mostly women - trying their hand at painting with acrylic on linen in the summer of 1988-9. Their efforts were well coordinated by CAAMA in what was termed A Summer Project. The project provided the opportunity for Ada to begin as a painter.
Adas paintings are aligned with her personality;
vibrant, outgoing and blatantly honest! She is a lover of bright colours, in particular
blue, but also paints in more traditional and subdued colours. Her works are expressive of
her lifestyle. She is a traditional, senior woman who involves herself in ceremony, dance
and painting. She expresses herself to the fullest extent both on canvas and in the
rituals of her ancient culture. She is a wonderful mother to June, Hilda, Colin, Steven,
Paddy and Ronnie and a caring and active grandmother to so many! Her sisters include
artists Gloria Petyarre, as well as Nancy, Myrtle, Kathleen, Violet, and Jeanie Petyarre.
Another well-known Utopia painter, Lindsay Bird, is her brother-in-law.
This painting depicts body paint designs worn by women in ceremony. The arcs represent designs worn across the shoulders and chest and are associated with the Mountain Devil Lizard Ceremony.