27 September 1940
Born: Bundy River Station, NT
LANGUAGE GROUP: Alyawarre/Anmatyerre
COMMUNITY: Utopia, NT
Barbara Weir was born in the early 1940s at Bundy River Station in the region of Utopia, north east of Alice Springs; her mother the late Minnie Pwerle, renowned Utopia and Australian artist, and her father an Irish station owner Jack Weir.
Being of mixed heritage Barbara was hidden from welfare patrol at a young age by her family, including her Aunty, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Barbara has fond childhood memories living at Utopia with her large extended family, and in some of her works today she will depict the caves where she would collect water with her coolamon.
Her idyllic childhood was disrupted when at the age of ten Barbara was suddenly taken from her family by a welfare patrol near the old Utopia Station homestead, as she was collecting water. She is one of the people known as the "stolen generation". Barbara was taken to Alice Springs, but because she kept speaking her Anmatyerre and Alyawarre tongue, was moved further away to children's homes and foster families around Australia, eventually ending up in Darwin. During these years she was forced to speak English and was told that her mother had passed away. Though she lost contact with her family, she was determined to return to them however she only knew her home as 'Atnwengerrp', the Anmatyerre word for her home. Eventually, this was the only word she could remember in her language.
Barbara married Mervyn Torres and in 1969 they moved to the remote community of Papunya where Mervyn was a field officer. Little did they know that they were about to witness the birth of the Aboriginal Art movement; when the Papunya men commenced painting their stories for an external art market. It was during this time that Mervyn had a fortuitous conversation while in Alice Springs. This chance discussion led to Barbara finding her family.
The reunion was a happy one, but it was marred by the fact that Barbara was unable to communicate with the family, as she had forgotten her language. In 1977 Barbara returned to the land of her birth, with her three children for good. Over the coming years, Barbara had three more children and reclaimed her Anmatyerre and Alyawarre languages. Barbara's children had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by their extended family, understand where they came from, as well as learning the lore. This depth of knowledge arguably explains why Barbara Weir's daughters have become great artists in their own right; they paint with a confidence and assertiveness only possible when there is an intimate knowledge of subject matter.
On returning to her home, Barbara quickly rekindled her unique relationship with Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who was by then a well-known batik artist. The Utopia women were well known for their beautiful batiks, the proceeds from which contributed to the Aboriginal community buying back the region of Utopia in 1974. Barbara Weir was active in the local land rights movement during the 1970s and worked towards regaining Country. At the same time, Barbara became interested in batik, and showed a flair and talent for it. After witnessing the events that took place in Papunya, Barbara made the natural transition to painting in 1988, which coincided with a project from the CAAMA shop which introduced the Utopia Batik Group to painting on canvas with acrylic paints. Early works by Barbara reveal how she experimented with colour and style to tell her stories linked to the land, history and culture. In some instances, earthier tones, overt iconography and dot work float above a black background, while in other examples there are linear motifs of body paint designs that echo the artworks of Barbara's Aunt, fellow esteemed artist Ada Bird.
In the following eight years, Emily Kame Kngwarreye catapulted onto the contemporary art scene and Barbara assisted her aunt navigate through the Western 'Art Business' as well as encouraging other women from her extended family to paint, including her mother Minnie Pwerle.
In 1996, after the death of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Barbara concentrated on developing her skill as an artist and soon attracted the attention of collectors by producing works that were contemporary in style, including her now renowned "Grass Seed" and "Mother's Country" paintings. Barbara is a highly talented, inventive, creative, energetic and hardworking artist, who paints in a number of different styles, pushing her own artistic boundaries in doing so. She enjoys painting in the comfort of her home, where she can be free to intuitively experiment. Recent works have seen Barbara incorporate ash from her country in her paint, resulting in some incredible textures and subtle hues in her work. She also uses ochres from time to time, resulting in innovative and earthy artworks.
Barbara Weir's exhibition history is extensive and anyone who has the pleasure of spending time with Barbara will hear of her vast travels throughout America, Europe and Asia to paint and exhibit her work. Barbara has also been honoured by recognition in numerous art awards, Indigenous and general awards, including being a multiple finalist in the peak Indigenous awards, the Telstra NATSIAA and in the recent 2018 Paddington Art Prize, one of the most prestigous landscape art awards in the country.
In recent years, Barbara has spent much time and effort mentoring, encouraging and supporting her fellow family members as they develop their art careers. This has also seen her step up and play an important part in the evolution and promotion of the industry's sole national body, the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia (AAAA).
In 2019, Barbara was honoured by, together with Adrian Newstead OAM, being appointed the inaugural Patron of the AAAA.
As Barbara nears her 80th year, she shows no signs of slowing down and continues a considerable travel and exhibition schedule. She remains a great inspiration to those around her.
Copyright Kate Owen Gallery May 2022