Language Group: Anmatyerre
Country: Ilkawerne, Utopia Region, North East of Alice Springs
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas and Linen
Subjects: Alpar (Rat-tail plant) Story, Awelye (Women's Ceremony and Body Paint Designs), Bush Foods
Karen is daughter to Lindsay Bird, a senior elder for Ilkawerne country and prominent male Utopia artist. Along with the other younger women, Karen is taught by the senior women the stories, songs and dances associated with ceremonies. In turn, they learn what themes they are allowed to paint. One of Karen's main Dreamtime stories is of the Alpar (Rat-tail plant) Seed Story. In the olden time, women would collect this seed, crush it and use it in making damper (bread).
Mbantua Gallery Permanent Collection, Alice Springs
|2004||Mbantua Gallery USA exhibitions: Portland, Nashville, Knoxville, Hartford and Greenwich|
|2004||Evolution of Utopia, Mbantua Gallery Cultural Museum, Alice Springs, NT, opened by the Honorable Robert Hill|
|2005||Evolution of Utopia, Mbantua Gallery Cultural Museum, Alice Springs, NT, opened by the Honorable Robert Hill|
|2006||Evolution of Utopia, Mbantua Gallery Cultural Museum, Alice Springs, NT, opened by the Honorable Robert Hill|
Karen paints the story of the rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant (Dysphania kAlpari). In Karen's language it is called Alpar. This small, erect herb is sticky to touch and scented heavily of citrus. Growing especially well in Mulga tree communities, it is found in abundance in Karen's home in the Utopia Region, north east of Alice Springs. It produces small clustered flowers that form long spikes, resembling that of a rat tail, as well as small black shiny seeds. These seeds are high in protein and low in fibre. Due to the sticky nature of this plant, the seeds are not shed as soon as they mature, making them available much later in the season than most other plants.
In the olden days, the women of Ilkawerne country would collect these seeds, sometimes soak them in water until swollen or cooked in hot coals, and then grind them into a powder that was used for making damper (bread). This practice is not as habitual now due to ready made bread, however the story is continually taught to the younger ones and ceremonies are carried out to ensure its productivity. The scented leaves of Alpar were also collected, soaked in water and used as a medicinal wash. Alternatively they would be ground into a powder and mixed with animal fats for use as an ointment, making this plant a very important food and medicinal source.