Inside Utopia, the home of some of Australia’s most famous artists

Bathed in the golden light of twilight on the red earth of the Central Australian desert, artist Jennifer Purvis Kngwarreye comes to life.

His home, Alhalkere, is a rarely seen pocket of paradise.

Beyond the few houses, the small church and the charming school building covered with murals, is a seemingly unspoiled natural view as far as the eye can see.

DISCLAIMER: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following content contains images and names of deceased persons.

Jennifer Purvis Kngwarreye lives in Atneltye (Boundary Bore), one of 16 remote stations in the Utopia homelands in central Australia. (

ABC News: Saskia Mabin

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It is one of a group of 16 outposts, named Utopia by pastors in the 1920s who were said to have been delighted by an abundance of tame, easy-to-catch rabbits they found there.

Jennifer has spent her life here, refusing the opportunity to leave to continue her education as a youngster to stay and protect her country.

“My grandfather, Michael number one, was here and my father was there too and he said to me ‘stay strong for this place, get up’,” Jennifer said.

desert wildflowers
Few people visit Jennifer’s country, in the heart of the central Australian desert. (

ABC News: Xavier Martin

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Learn from some of the greats

Jennifer’s grandmother, Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of the most prominent and prolific artists in Australian history.

His paintings have decorated a Qantas Dreamliner, visited prestigious galleries around the world and sold for millions of dollars.

Emily is said to have rarely left her beloved home and spent the last decade of her life producing around 3,000 paintings and imparting her knowledge.

Emily Kngwarreye seated on a canvas on the floor painting.
Emily Kngwarreye was engrossed in the painting of her world-famous piece Earth’s Creation 1.(

Provided

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As a child, Jennifer would sit next to her grandmother and watch her paint, learning dream stories masterfully captured on canvas.

Today Jennifer is a respected leader in her community; tourists must come and ask him for permission to access and photograph certain sacred sites.

Her own works of art, and those of her sisters, are appreciated and purchased in worlds far from her own.

aniltji school boundary bore
Jennifer helped her father and others paint the school she attended when she was 10 years old. (

ABC News: Xavier Martin

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The art of utopia celebrated around the world

Art centers in remote communities in the Northern Territories provide local artists with a place to paint and the support they need to ensure their work is ethically sold and exhibited.

Following the work of a newly established art center in the homelands of Utopia, a small collection of works by local artists was on display for the very first time at a major annual exhibition in Alice Springs.

smiling native woman standing in front of a work of art in orange and earthy tones
Jennifer Purvis Kngwarreye with her painting Anularra (Pencil Yam Dreaming).(

Provided: Sophia Lunn

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Jennifer’s Anularra (Pencil Yam Dreaming) was hung alongside paintings by Judy Greeny Kngwarreye, Bessie Pitjara Purvis and Motorbike Paddy Ngale at the Araluen Art Center as part of the 30th Annual Desert Mob Exhibition.

It was bought by Artbank, a federal government arts program, which means it could end up on the wall of an Australian embassy halfway around the world.

“We acquire excellent works of their kind that represent the Australian contemporary art market,” said Artbank Director Zoe Rodriguez.

native woman squatting with two dogs in front of vista bush
The world of art galleries is far from life in Utopia. (

ABC News: Saskia Mabin

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Artbank was established in 1980 with the aim of supporting living Australian artists by buying their works and then renting them out.

Its clients include government offices, diplomatic missions around the world, and individuals who want valuable works of art in their homes, but are unwilling or unable to afford to purchase them.

“We have around 60 works of Utopia, we have been collecting these works for over three decades. Utopia has a very rich vein of art running through it.”

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