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Lena Pwerle (also known as Pula) was born in approximately 1934 and is an Anmatyerre woman from Utopia in Central Australia. Lena speaks Eastern Anmatyerre and grew up at Utopia Homestead approximately 2.5 hours North-East of Alice Springs in the Central Australian desert. She is the sister of well known Utopian artists, Cowboy Loy, Louie Pwerle and Ray Loy.
Lena is the wife of the late Left Hand Sam Kngwarreye and is mother to five children including emerging artist Nora Petyarre. Lena is a senior law woman at Utopia and is highly respected for her knowledge of important women’s ceremonies and activities. Lena, like many women from this generation became involved in modern art depiction in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Initially an art workshop was held in Utopia which taught a group of women silk batik making. The women, including Lena and others such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye & Gloria Petyarre, used the traditional knowledge, experience, understanding, shared stories and scenes from their lives and transferred all this knowledge onto silk batiks. The workshop was such a success that it not only toured Australia but also Eire and Scotland. The whole collection of 88 batiks was acquired by the Holmes a Court Collection. The collection was later illustrated in the book titled “Utopia: A Picture Story”.
In the 1980’s the women of Utopia held another workshop which explored the use of canvas and acrylic paints. This was just the medium for these talented women and there was an explosion of creativity. Lena’s paintings depict water soakages, Awelye (Women’s Business) and Anwekety (Conkerberry). Lena is most well known for her water soakage series.
Lena began painting for local Aboriginal galleries in Alice Springs in the mid 1990’s, particularly Mbantua Gallery. In 1996 Lena was invited to represent Australia at the Festival of Pacific Arts held in Western Samoa, it was here that she was marked as being among the best available talent. Later that year she also travelled to Indonesia with a group of Utopian artists for a workshop on art batik.
Over the years Lena has developed her own unique style whilst still maintaining the important stories she shares through her art. Her “Soakages” artworks reflect waterholes that are spread across her traditional homelands. These soakages are positioned in significant places and found in Lena’s homelands of Ahalpere. Soakages were extremely important for Aboriginal people as they provided a source of water. Traditionally to collect the water the women would scoop out the sand or mud using traditional implements such as coolamons or woomeras. Sometimes they would need to dig several meters down in order to find clean water. The knowledge of these water soakages is extremely valuable.“Long time (ago) olden time mob get their little coolamon, they check them (soakages0 – proper good one water! They been find ‘em under the ground. My grandmother taught me where to find ‘em. They dry now, they finish. They (my people) drink bore water now” – Lena Pwerle, 7 October 2008.