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Polly Ngale

"Bush Plum" by Polly Ngale


DOB: c. 1940
BORN: Utopia, NT

Polly Ngale is one of the most senior custodians of her country Alparra, in the heart of Utopia, located in the north-west corner of the Simpson desert and roughly 350km northeast of Alice Springs, along the Sandover Highway. Polly belongs to the oldest living generation of Utopia women and her artistic career began in the late 1970s when she, like many of the women in Utopia, began working with silk batik before venturing into works on canvas.

Polly is considered one of the most accomplished painters from the Utopia region and is inspired by the Arnwetky (conkerberry) - a green tangled, spiny shrub that produces fragrant white flowers. After the summer rains, tiny green berries begin to grow and ripen, changing colour over the weeks from light green to pinks and browns to yellow, to shades of red and purple when they finally ripen. The fruits very much resemble a plum and are often referred to in English by Polly as a 'bush plum'. The Arnwetky is a popular variety of bush tucker for the people of Utopia, as well as possessing medicinal properties.

During the Dreamtime, winds came from all directions, carrying the Arnwetky seed all over Polly's ancestors' Anmatyerre land. To ensure the continued fruiting of the Arnwetky, the Anmatyerre people pay homage to the spirit of the bush plum by recreating it in their ceremonies through song and dance, and in recent years, through painting. The patterns in the paintings can represent the fruit of the plant, its leaves and flowers, and also the body paint designs that are associated with it during the ceremony.

Polly shares this country and the Bush Plum (Arnwetky) Dreaming with her sisters Kathleen Ngale and Angeline Pwerle Ngale. Like Kathleen, Polly creates her paintings by building up layer upon layer of colour to create multi-dimensional images. The two have often collaborated and painted together.

Polly's paintings are borne from traditional knowledge and her confident approach to painting can be seen in the way she assembles streams of seeds, piling dots upon each other to create rich thick fields employing glowing palettes of colour. Pollys works range from extremely fine dotting techniques with either interspersed colours or areas of varying colours and depth all blending together across the canvas. Through extensive overdotting, she builds up layers of colour, blending or separate, to give a wealth of different and very attractive paint effects.

Her subject matter is drawn from acute observation and memory. Intimate knowledge of the country, personal history and ancestral journey. Seamless in her portrayal of these elements her paintings are sensory mind maps that reveal the artist's place, and her sense of self all within one framework. Polly's work has been increasingly exhibited since 1999 and in recent years, Polly has undergone a renaissance in her work - by all accounts producing some of the finest paintings of her career to date.

Her work has appeared in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award since 2003. Her honourable mention as a 2004 finalist was followed by representation at the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris at the Grand Palais Champs Elysees. Polly was also represented in the exhibition Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy at the Hillside Forum Daikanyama Tokyo in 2008.

Polly's work has been exhibited extensively both in Australia and overseas.


  • Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth
  • The World Bank, Washington
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • The Holt Collection

Awards and Recognition

2003 20th NATSIAA, Darwin - Finalist

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2019 Poly Ngale - Arnwetky, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney

Selected Group Exhibitions

  • 2020 Polly Ngale & Kathleen Ngale: Bush Plum Dreaming, Japingka Gallery, Perth
  • 2019 Summer Show & Art Parade, Salt, Queenscliff, VIC
  • 2019 International Women's Day, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
  • 2019 Defining Tradition | the colourists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
  • 2018 Painting on Country - Utopia Artists, Japingka Gallery, Perth
  • 2018 Beyond the Veil, Olsen Gruin, New York
  • 2018 Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from the National Gallery of Australia, me Collectors Room, Berlin
  • 2018 Art Paris Art Fair, Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Grand-Palais, Paris
  • 2015 Sixteen Artists 16 x 2, Japingka Gallery, Perth
  • 2014 Dot Code: Desert Artists, Japingka Gallery, Perth
  • 2014 Parcours des Mondes, Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
  • 2012 Lineart, Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Gent, Belgium
  • 2011 Thinking outside the square, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
  • 2010 Stories from the Centre, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
  • 2010 Parcours des Mondes, Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
  • 2010 Parcours Nomad's en Australie, Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
  • 2010 Spring, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
  • 2009 JGM Gallery, London
  • 2009 Size Matters, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney, NSW
  • 2009 Utopia - Bush Plum & Other delicacies, Honey Ant Gallery, Noosa
  • 2008 Emily Kame Kngwarreye and her Legacy: Visions of Utopia that Penetrate the Soul of the Eastern Desert, Art Front Gallery Hillside Forum, Tokyo
  • 2008 Utopia Revisited, NG Art Gallery, Sydney
  • 2008 Dreamings the Land, Outback Aboriginal Art, Caulfield, VIC
  • 2009 Utopia - Bush Plum & Other delicacies, Honey Ant Gallery, Noosa
  • 2007 Arts d'Australie, Stephane Jacob, Paris
  • 2007 Journeys and Dreams, Gecko Gallery, Broome
  • 2007 Visions of Utopia, Coo-ee Aboriginal Art, Sydney
  • 2007 Journeys and Dreams, Gecko Gallery, Broome
  • 2005 Neville Keating Gallery, London
  • 2003 Telstra Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
  • 2002 Two Sisters: Kathleen and Polly Ngale, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne.
  • 2000 Arts d'Australie Stephane Jacob / Espace Mezzo - Avenue des Champs-Elysees, Paris
  • 1992 Modern Art Ancient Icon, The World Bank, Washington
  • 1990 Utopia A Picture Story, batik from the Holmes A Court Collection by Utopia artists which toured Ireland and Scotland
  • 1990 Art of the Eastern Desert, Eastern Desert Art, Brisbane
  • 1989 Utopia Women's Paintings, A Summer Project, S.H. Ervin Gallery Sydney
  • 1989 Aboriginal Art from Utopia, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne