Kathleen Kngale Camel Camp, Utopia, NT, Australia, b. 1934
Kathleen Kngale, an Anmatyerr woman from Arlperre “Country”, began her artistic career in the late 1970s when batik-making methods were introduced to the women of the Utopia Region in Central Australia led by artist, Jenny Green. Kngale’s early works in the batik medium were featured in the seminal group show at the Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide, in 1988, titled UTOPIA: A Picture Story. UTOPIA exhibited works from a large group of over eighty Alyawarr and Anmatyerr women who formed the Utopia Women’s Batik Group in 1978 and which Kngale was a member of. The exhibition toured internationally before the collected works were purchased by a prominent Australian collector, the Holmes à Court family collection in Perth. Later, founders of the Batik Group rose to become significant players in the Australian and international art scenes, including Emily Kngwarreye, Audrey Kngwarreye, Lena Pwerle, Rosy Kunoth Kngwarreye, and the Petyarre Sisters. Although Kngale belongs to the illustrious Utopia Region tradition and comes from a family of practicing artists, namely her two sisters Polly and Angeline Kngale, it was twenty years after she started painting that Kngale was acknowledged as one of the most significant and exciting contributors to contemporary art emerging from Utopia.
Kngale transitioned to painting on canvas with acrylic paints in the 1980s together with the other women involved in the Utopia Women’s Batik Group. A project organised by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) introduced the women to this medium.
Kngale came into the spotlight for paintings of her “Anwekety” (Bush Plum) “Dreaming” in the early 2000s. “Anwekety” is a prized food source for Anmatyerr women, a fruit which ripens between Christmas and May in Arlperre “Country” after good rainfall. Her large-scale paintings can be interpreted as guiding the viewer through the ripening process of the Bush Plum, from astringent yellows and oranges in their immature phase to luscious pinks and purples. These rich pigments swirl across Kngale’s canvases, layer upon flowing layer of scattered dot-work, building a deep space onto which as a final touch she applies a screen of less weighty pastel hues with a freer brush stroke. Kngale’s sharpened technique through decades of experience working in the acrylic medium is apparent through her capacity to achieve a sense of lightness contrasted by a vast spatial depth in her works. While Kngale’s Bush Plum paintings focus on the growth of the fruit itself, they can also be interpreted as aerial landscapes tracing the journeys across "Country" of foraging Anmatyerr women searching for the “Anwekety” crop. The movement between underlying colours in her works can be seen to mark where the “Bush Plum” is in abundance and where it is lacking. The paintings act as tributes to the Ancestors' creation from whom Kngale’s “Dreaming” story derives, the overlaying of pigment in her paintings performing these ever-deepening levels of interpretation from a material standpoint.