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, and 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, which may be 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 land, approximately 200 kilometres north east of Alice Springs, in approximately 1922. 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 later 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 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 brush stroke and fervour of colour.
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.
2002 Selected entrant in the 2002, 19th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.
AMP Collection, Melbourne
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra
Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne
Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica
Kreglinger Collection, Melbourne
Mbantua Gallery Permanent Collection, Alice Springs
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Thomas Vroom Collection, Amsterdam
2002 BIG COUNTRY small worlds, Fire-works Gallery, Qld
2002 Awelye Atnwengerrp, Dacou Gallery, Adelaide
2003 Minnie Pwerl, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs
2004 Minnie Pwerl, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs
2004 Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne
2006 Minnie Pwerl, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs
2006 Memorial Exhibition, Gallery Savah, Sydney
2000 DACOU in association with AMP, an official sponsor of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, hosted an exhibition of mixed Utopia artists in the AMP building, Sydney.
2000 Mother and Daughter, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
2001 Group Exhibition, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
2001 Painting Country, Tandanya, S.A
2001 Out of Utopia, Chapman Gallery, Canberra
2001 Combined exhibition in San Anselmo, Marin County, California USA
2001 “Minnie Pwerle”,”Mary Pantjiti McLean- ‘Tumaru Purlykumunu- small stories”- Japingka Gallery- Perth- Western Australia.
2001 Painting Country, combined exhibition at Tandanya, Adelaide.
2001 Combined exhibition at Dreamtime Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
2001 Women Artists of the Australian Desert, combined exhibition Gallery 202, Auckland, New Zealand.
2002 Generations, Japingka Gallery, WA
2002 The Utopia Six, Flinders Lane Gallery, Vic
2002 United – Mother and Daughter, Alison Kelly Gallery, Vic
2002 UTSA, New York City, USA
2002 Group Exhibition, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT
2002 Mixed Utopia exhibition at Knut Grothe Galeri, Charlottlenlund, Copenhagen.
2002 Mixed Utopia exhibition at Galerie a Le Temps Du Reve, France.
2002 Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Utopia Region, combined Exhibition at BMGART, Adelaide, SA.
2002 Minnie’s Country, Dacou Gallery, Adelaide, SA
2002 Art and Soul Gallery in conjunction with Mbantua Gallery, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A
2002 'The Cove Gallery', Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2002 Urban Wine Works, Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2002 Mary's Woods with Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2002 New City Merchants in conjunction with Mbantua Gallery, Knoxville, Tennessee USA
2003 My Grandmother and Me, World Vision, Walkabout Gallery, Sydney
2003 Light Over Utopia, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, WA
2003 Art and Soul Gallery with Mbantua Gallery, Nashville, Tennessee USA
2003 'The Cove Gallery', Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2003 Contemporary Aboriginal Art Event, Umpqua Bank with Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2003 Mary's Woods, Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2003 Art from the Dreamtime, Portland Art Museum with Mbantua Gallery, Portland, Oregon USA
2003 Minnie Pwerle & Mitjili Napurrula, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle. WA.
2004 Diva’s of the Desert, Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs, N.T
2004 Black and White, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs
2004 Mbantua Gallery USA exhibition; Portland, Nashville, Knoxville, Hartford, Greenwich, New York and Philadelphia
2005 Small Wonders (A collection of 1’x1’ and 1’x1½’ paintings), Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, N.T
2005 Utopia Revealed, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, WA
2006 The Pwerle Sisters, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne
2007 Standing on Ceremony, Tandanya Cultural Institute, Adelaide, South Australia.
2007 Utopia in New York, Robert Steele Gallery, New York. USA.
2007 Group Exhibition, Australian Embassy, Washington, USA.
2007 Desert Diversity, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2007 Treasures of the Spirit, Tandanya Cultural Institute, Adelaide, SA.
2007 New Works from Utopia, Space Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
2008 Atnwengerrp: Land of Dreaming, Minnie Pwerle carpet launch, Designer Rugs Showroom, Edgecliffe, NSW.
2008 Emily and Her Legacy, Hillside Gallery, Tokyo with Coo-ee Art Sydney in conjunction with the opening of the landmark retrospective exhibition Utopia – the Genius of Emily Kngwarreye at the National Art Centre, Tokyo, Japan