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98/86/5 Textile length, 'Awely Body Painting', silk batik, made by Gloria Temarre Petyarre, Utopia, Northern Territory, 1997. Click to enlarge.

'Awely Body Painting', textile by Gloria Temarre Petyarre

This batik is one of 11 that were selected from a group of 30 made at a high point of production by batik artists working at the Utopia homelands in Central Australia, in 1997. They represent a range of designs drawn from direct personal cultural traditions, are particularly well-made and at 5 metres they are an unusually long length.

A cattle station since 1927, the Utopia homelands in Central Australia were returned to their traditional Anmatyerre and Alyawarre owners in 1979. The artists …


Object No.


Object Statement

Textile length, 'Awely Body Painting', silk batik, made by Gloria Temarre Petyarre, Utopia, Northern Territory, 1997

Physical Description

White silk, dyed with wax-resist batik process, with tan, red and finally dark brown dye. The whole covered with brushed groups of semi-circular lines, fitting into one another in different directions, to depict ochres painted on the body during women's ceremonies (awely). At the foot of the textile length the word GLORIA is painted in wax resist.



1100 mm



Over 20 years the spelling of artists' names has changed, as linguists (e.g. Jenny Green) have refined the pronunciation of languages used by artists at Utopia. The names used are those given at the time of acquisition. Also given is the previous name, where the artist is represented in the collection with earlier work. Petyarre was previously Pitjara; later Apetyarr.

A cattle station since 1927, the Utopia homelands in Central Australia were returned to their traditional Anmatyerre and Aylwarre owners in 1979. The artists live in camps near ceremonial sites on their clan lands. A number first learnt batik in 1977 first through Suzie Bryce from the Aboriginal Development Centre in Alice Springs and and Kunytjitja (Yipati) Brown from Ernabella, and also through Jenny Green and Julia Murray in 1977-78 who were setting up a broad education program at the Women's Centre. Since then batik, and from the late 1980s also acrylic painting on canvas, developed from traditional ground and body paintings, have become important new forms of cultural expression. Many of the designs are concerned with 'awely' (oweyah) which is to do with 'women's business' and ceremonial law; others concern personal totems, or bush tucker.

Some artists visited Indonesia in 1982, and in late 1994 nine women from Utopia visited the Brahma Tirta Sari studio of Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam in Yogyakarta, organised by Australian James Bennett who was working there. A return visit of Ismoyo and Fliam in 1995 to Utopia further developed skills in dyeing, and especially the use of caps: metal stamps made from the artist's drawings. These were used for some years alongside the more commonly used brushes and cantings (spouts).

Art for an external market is now a central part of local economy. Various agents have supported groups of artists in the marketing of their work, and in 1988 a significant collection was made for Robert Holmes a' Court from a major batik project organised by Rodney Gooch and Christopher Hodges. At the time these 1997 batiks were made, production and marketing was co-ordinated through the organisation known as the Utopia Cultural Centre and Utopia Awely Batik.

Note: dates for these events vary, and those used are the most consistent from the publications Raiki Wara (NGV 1998), Hot Wax (MAGNT 1997) and Putting in the Colour (Desart 2000), The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History (UNSW Press 1992).

Batik is a way of decorating cloth by applying hot wax to the surface of the fabric as a resist to dyes. Artists can build up patterns in a number of colours, waxing over new areas before the next dye bath. The wax is finally removed in boiling water, or is stripped out with solvent.



This batik was from a group of 30 5-metre batiks, some of which were exhibited in 'Peintres aborigenes d'Australie' at Parc de la Villette in Paris in December 1997. The Powerhouse Museum was at that time featuring Utopia artists in the Hot Wax exhibition, touring from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory during the Olympic cultural festival, the Festival of the Dreaming, at which artists also gave demonstrations in the Museum in September 1997. The Museum assisted the Utopia artists in preparing their batiks for exhibition in Paris.


Credit Line

Purchased 1998

Acquisition Date

4 June 1998

Cite this Object


'Awely Body Painting', textile by Gloria Temarre Petyarre 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 21 June 2021, <https://ma.as/164586>


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