Molly Pwerl

Born: c.1920
Skin name: Pwerle (also spelled Apwerl, Pwerl, Pula)
Language group: Alyawarr
Country: Atwengerrp and Irrwelty
Area: Utopia Region, Central Australia

Molly Pwerle’s country is Atnwengerrp and her language is Anmatyerre and Alyawarr.  She was born in approximately 1920 (no records exist) and has had little exposure to western culture. In fact, Molly picked up a paintbrush for the first time in 2004. As young girls Molly and her sister Galya worked for the Chalmers family, who took up the lease of MacDonald Downs Station in 1923 and later, in the 1960s, leased Utopia Station. In 1975 Utopia Station was sold to the government and handed back to the traditional owners. It is here in the small community outstation Irrultja, 300kms north-east of Alice Springs, where Molly lives with her sisters Galya and Emily, both well known artists.

Molly’s extended family are all artists including her sister the late Minnie Pwerle, Barbara Weir, Aileen and Betty Mpetyane, who all encouraged Molly and her younger sisters Gayla and Emily Pwerle to paint with their famed sister Minnie.

In late 2004 Barbara Weir, Minnie Pwerle’s daughter organised the first workshop of the sisters which was held at Ultja station. This inaugural workshop heralded the start of an amazing painting experience.  Just as Minnie showed the glorious freedom of expression, Molly, Emily and Galya followed suit.  Another workshop was arranged and so it continues.

Minnie took a close and supportive role in the development of her younger sisters. The sisters had an instant response to applying paint onto canvas, developing expressions of their dreamings that have been passed from generation to generation. Keeping the culture alive through the passing on of these symbols and patterns ensures the survival of these peoples in the harsh desert conditions.

Molly paints “Awelye Atnwengerrp”, meaning women’s ceremony in her country. Her paintings are often characterized by long, straight lines which criss-cross the canvas. She paints these lines in one direction, and at times overlays a second set of lines running in the opposite direction. The result of her work is a pattern which resembles loosely woven cloth.

However, Molly Pwerle’s lines have nothing to do with weaving. Importantly for Molly Pwerle and for her expression of her heritage, these lines symbolise dance tracks. Dance tracks are the markings made in the sand by women of Molly Pwerle’s country when they gather to perform their ceremonial dance. The women stand shoulder to shoulder, each one’s feet slightly apart. While another group of women sits and sings, the barefoot dancers move forward in unison, their toes gripping the sand. Each dancer takes a series of small hops with both feet together, the soles of their feet barely leaving the ground. As the line of women moves forward, their feet leave dance tracks in the sand.