Gloria was born c. 1945 at Atnangkere Soakage, Northern Territory. She lived in the traditional ways before moving to one of the established settlements, Utopia. Her language is Anmatyerre and her country is Atnangkere.
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This beautiful artwork depicts leaves of the Kurrajong tree which is used for bush medicine. Bush Medicine is Australian Aboriginal people’s traditional practice. It was believed that evil spirits caused any illness without an obvious explanation and these would be treated by the tribe’s medicine man whom would specialise in spiritual cures.
Women from the Anmatyerre region gather the leaves to be used in traditional bush medicines. The leaves are boiled and mashed with animal fats (emu or kangaroo) making a medicinal poultice or paste which can last for many months. The paste is then applied to the skin to heal a multitude of afflictions such as bites, wounds, skin infections, rashes, skin cancer and the like. The leaves are also steeped in hot water to make an infusion, or healing tea.
The leaves of the important Kurrajong, or Kurrawong tree features in these iconic paintings which first stormed into the world’s attention when Gloria Petyarre won the coveted Australian ‘Wynne Prize’ for landscape in 1999. The work in question was a large green and gold medicine leaf painting (entitled ‘Leaves’). The leaves were very fine – each resulting from a dot with a tail that tapered off to nothing – but not just one leaf; a dense pattern of thousands of them, all seemingly flowing to the tune of some breeze swirling them in unison.