Ada Bird Petjarre

To be Auctioned on July 25th 12 Noon

Prominent Aboriginal artist Ada Bird Petjarre c 1930-2009 is known for her graphic depictions of body painting designs worn by Anmatjerra women. Ada Bird represents in her work, the body paint designs worn in ceremonies associated with the abundance of bush foods found in Utopia and its surrounding areas. Native grasses are soaked in ochre paint and splashed against the skin to produce a decorative effect. Breasts, neck and backs of the women are finger-painted in raw linear patterns. The women paint each other with designs according to their skin name and tribal hierarchy. This is accompanied by singing for the few hours prior to the ceremony in order to call the spirit ancestors.

A connection with the fertility of the land and celebrating the provision of bush tucker is a recurring theme within women’s body painting ceremonial designs of Utopia artists. Ada combines both traditional designs and representational elements in her paintings.

Her Dreamings are from her home country Mulga Bore (Akaye Soakage); the Angertla (Mountain Devil Lizard), Emu (Unyara), Yam and native grass seeds (Kadjera). Ada is a senior woman at Utopia. She was born on Utopia, 259 km north east of Alice Springs. This cattle station was bought back from white landowners in 1978. Ada began making batiks in the late 1970s.

She shares these Dreamings with her aunt, Emily Kngwarreye (deceased) and her four sisters Gloria, Violet, Myrtle and Kathleen. She has two daughters, June and Hilda and four sons, Colin, Steven, Paddy and Ronnie.

The German filmmaker Wim Wenders acquired one of her batiks. Ada was also given a minor role in one of his films.

Making batik inspired Ada to experiment with acrylic paint on canvas in 1988 with CAAMA’s Summer Project.


The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra holds nine of Ada Bird’s paintings and one woodblock in the permanent collection. In 1990 Ada had her first solo exhibition in Sydney. Ada Bird has exhibited in all major Australian cities. Her works have been apart of many national and international exhibitions

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