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Awelye: Women's Ceremony & Body Paint

Posted by Jilan Shah on
Awelye: Women's Ceremony & Body Paint
This week we wanted to pay homage to the traditional Awelye (Women's Ceremony) and how it features in some incredible Indigenous artworks. 
Sharon Numina Body Paint
Awelye is the Anmatyerre word for women's Ceremonies and also refers to the designs applied to womenʼs bodies as part of Ceremony. Only Aboriginal women perform Awelye as this is womenʼs business and is never conducted in the presence of men. By evoking and remembering their ancestors and showing respect for their Country highlights the importance of the land and community. As a womanʼs role is typically seen as a maternal figure, Awelye connects the land with fertility to celebrate the food it provides and also, for the land to continue to flourish. Awelye ceremony consists of the women painting each otherʼs bodies with organic materials such as ochre, charcoal or ash. They paint specific designs that relate to a woman's Dreaming, skin name and position within the community. During the body painting, the women sing their Dreaming while performing a ceremonial dance. 
 Awelye in Aboriginal Art: 
The above painting is created by Betty Mbitjana Pwerle. Following the death of her mother, Betty has increased in profile and now portrays her mother’s stories in her paintings. In this painting, she depicts a combination of her bush melon and her Mothers Dreaming: Awelye Atnwengerrp, in gorgeous Earthy colours. These are the colours that you would traditionally see painted on the body; mixed with ochres and animal fats. 
The above painting was created by Louise Numina.  Louise remembers the Awelye like this: "the song and dance ceremonies mainly revolve around bush tucker, such as yam, banana, wild tomato, plum, onions, honey ants, witchetty grubs, nuts and berries. The 'U' shapes represent a person or groups of people sitting down with crossed legs. A larger 'U' indicates a windbreak. Concentric circles can represent a campsite, stone, waterhole or fire. The exact imprint of human feet or animal paws depicts tracks of humans, emus, possums, kangaroos etc."  Louise paints this piece in her distinctly vibrant, Utopian style. 
The above painting was created by Raelene Stevens. 
Using striking pinks and red hues, Raelene paints her version of the Awelye onto canvas. The round circles, or bush melons, can be seen squeezed amongst the bold lines that were traditionally painted onto the Women's arms and breasts. Distinctly feminine in feel, this piece promises to make a statement in the home; through dazzling colour and deep cultural significance.  
These artists are just some of the few that have showcased the body paint design on canvas. Some of the greats include Minni Pwerle, Barbara Weir, Charmaine Pwerle, Ada Bird Petyarre, Colleen Wallace, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and so many more. As this is a Women's Design, it is strictly Women's Business and therefore only Women are allowed to paint this style. This sacred spiritual Ceremony is still practised today to signify a young woman's coming of age, connection to country and fertility. Elder women also continue to engage with the ceremony to reestablish their own felt sense of connection to their country. 
For more artworks that feature this mesmerizing design, pop on over to our artworks page, or contact us directly at 

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