Lena Pwerle

Lena Pwerle

Lena Pwerle

Born: c. 1934

Deceased: 2022

Language Group: Anmatyerre

Country: Ahalpere, Utopia Region, North East of Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Medium: Acrylic on Canvas and Linen, Batik on Silk, Wood Carving

Subjects: Soakage, Awelye (Women's Ceremony), Anwekety (Conkerberry)

Lena was mother to five children including that of artist Nora Petyarre. Lena's husband was Left Hand Sam Kngwarreye (deceased). Lena grew up at Utopia Homestead, some 240km North East of Alice Springs with her siblings Ray Loy, Cowboy Loy and Louie (Louis) Pwerle. Lena had also lived in many other places in the Utopia Region, including that of Ngkwarlerlanem in the northern reaches of Utopia where she lived with her husband and children for many years.
Initially Lena worked in the medium of batik along with over eighty other women from the Utopia Region in Central Australia. Her work in batik is featured in 'Utopia - A Picture Story'. In 1996 she was invited to represent Australia in Western Samoa for the Festival of Pacific Arts where she was marked as 'among the best available talent'. In this same year she also traveled to Indonesia with other women of Utopia for a workshop funded by the Northern Territory Department of Education so that they could learn more about the art of batik.
Lena began painting for Mbantua Gallery in the mid 1990's. Lena maintained and developed a number of unique styles over the years. Firstly a fine circular pattern of dots in some of Lena's earliest works reflect Soakages (or waterholes) that are spread across her land. Unkempt arced motifs represent her Awelye (women's ceremonial body paint designs). Short repetitive linear work accented with fine dots make up her Anwekety (conkerberry) paintings. Traditional colours of ochre reds, tawny yellows and soft whites, of which belong to her country Ahalpere, bequeath her early Soakage paintings and Awelye paintings with simplicity, and great mixes of colours are deliciously abundant in her Anwekety paintings and later Soakage works.
Lena enjoyed painting very much and was always found encouraging other family members to do so. She was a senior boss woman at Utopia and was on a number of government boards including the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (which protects the sacred sites within the NT) and the Urapuntja council which governs Utopia. Lena's personality reflected this immense responsibility while exuding good nature and humour. A number of women's ceremonies have been performed at Mbantua Gallery over the years, and Lena had predominately been the woman behind the scenes ensuring that Utopia ladies participate to promote their culture as well as have fun.

Lena passed away on the 8th March 2022 and she spent her last few years in the aged care facility in Alice Springs. She was a real leader of her people at Utopia and was universally respected by all who knew her. There was not much that she didn't know about the bush. Hunting and collecting bush foods in the desolate regions of the Northern Territory was second nature to her. And of course, her understanding of the Dreamtime - ceremony and mythology was second to none! The passing of Lena is yet another loss from the diminishing, old-cultured, Aboriginal Australians.

The Holmes à Court Collection, Perth, WA
Mbantua Gallery Collection, Alice Springs, NT
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, NSW
The Second National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
Utopia Women's Paintings, the first Works on Canvas, A Summer Project, 1988-1989, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, NSW
Utopia - A Picture Story, an Exhibition of 88 works on Silk by Utopian artists, Holmes à Court Collection, toured Eire and Scotland
The Eighth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, NT
Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT
Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Exhibition, Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, NT
Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
Mbantua Gallery USA exhibitions
Small Wonders, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
Evolution of Utopia - opened by the Honorable Robert Hill, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
Soakages, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
Narrativa Herióca - Pintura Aborígine do Deserto Australiano - Renaissance Hotel, São Paulo, Brazil
Arca Urbana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brody, A.
(1989) Utopia Women's Paintings The First Works on Canvas, A Summer Project 1988-89,, Heytesbury Holdings, Perth, WA
Brody, A.
(1990) Utopia: a Picture Story, 88 Silk Batiks from the Robert Holmes à Court Collection, Heytesbury Holdings, Perth, WA