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March 18 Art Minute: Tjungkara Ken, Seven Sisters

Art Minute, Art of the Week, toledo museum of art
Tjungkara Ken (Australian, born 1969), Seven Sisters, 2013, acrylic on linen, H: 60 in.; W: 78 in., Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Gift of Georgia E. Welles, 2013.182

In Seven Sisters, Tjungkara Ken employs a rich palette and meticulous dotting composed into sections of parallel lines to suggest an aerial perspective of the patchwork of landforms that compose the vast and changing topography of her ancestral country, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands in South Australia. 

The subject of the painting is a Dreaming—a story about the creation of the world by ancestral beings—in which the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades star cluster) are forever chased by Nyiru (a star in the Orion constellation), who wants to marry the eldest sister. The sisters travel to Earth to escape Nyiru’s unwanted attention and assume human form. Tjungkara’s painting depicts their journey across the desert. Circles and ovals represent important sites; traveling lines join them to mark the flight of the Seven Sisters. 

Like many Aboriginal Australian artists, for Tjungkara her artistic practice is an effort to preserve and communicate her religion and culture. By painting traditional stories on non-traditional materials for non-Aboriginal audiences, Tjungkara navigates the complex territory between embracing a cross-cultural world and protecting herself from being compromised by it.

This work is currently on view in Levis Gallery in the exhibition Global Conversations: Art in Dialogue