Born: Amata, SA
Language Group: Pitjantjatjara
Communirty: Rocket Bore, NT (APY Lands)
Tjungkara Ken is the youngest of nine children, to artists Mick Wikilyiri and Paniny Mick from the Amata community in South Australia. The Amata community is in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in north-western South Australia. Her mother's Country is Wingellina and her father's Country is Amata.
Tjungkara grew up watching the women of Amata as they learnt batik, natural dyeing, spinning, weaving and leatherwork techniques. An art centre called Minymaku Arts (meaning 'belonging to women') was set up in 1997, but in 2005 it was renamed Tjala Arts. The new art centre included both men and women painting abstract imagery adapted from traditional symbols and concepts.
Tjungkara began painting in 1997, becoming more deeply committed in 2008. She is a dedicated artist who has become a significant figure in contemporary Aboriginal art from the APY region.
She works both as a solo artist and with family. She is one of five sisters who have painted as the Ken Sisters Collaborative (along with Yaritji Young, Freda Brady, Maringka Tunkin and Sandra Ken), who were awarded the Wynne Prize in 2016 for their painting 'Seven Sisters'.
Tjungkara and her sisters have also collaborated with non-Indigenous artists such as Ben Quilty in 2017 for Sydney Contemporary to share ideas about colour and movement, scale, and energy. All these collaborations have resulted in a remarkable depth of talent and expertise.
Tjungkara depicts her mother's and father's Country and its Tjukurpa (Dreamings) in her paintings with her distinctive style of exceptionally fine dot work, rich colour palette and pulsating compositions. She is well known for her sophisticated use of colour and striking works depicting the Seven Sisters story.
The Seven Sisters story involves the sisters being chased across country by Wati Nyiru (a bad man). The elder sisters protect and teach the younger ones and keep them from falling for his tricks. The sisters are said to be the Pleiades constellation and Orion is said to be Nyiru. He is forever chasing the sisters across the night sky.
Tjungkara has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize (2017) and the Wynne Prize (2019, 2021). In the 2021 Wynne Prize, she was awarded the Roberts Family Prize. She has also been a finalist in the Telstra Award numerous times (2022, 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2010).
Tjungkara has exhibited widely throughout Australia and her work is represented in collections including Artbank, Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, QAGOMA, and private collections include the Corrigan Collection, Lagerberg Swift Collection, and the Laverty Collection.
Copyright Kate Owen Gallery, May 2023