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The story of Big Yam Dreaming, 1995

Emily completed this epic work in only 2 days, the same time it took assistants to prime the canvas black. She sat cross-legged on the 3-by-8 metre canvas spread flat on the ground and painted her way to the edges, 'knitting' one section onto another without preliminary sketching, scaling or reworking.

Abstract painting.
Big Yam Dreaming

Japanese viewers remarked on the calligraphic character of the brushstrokes that stop and start in a measured yet organic style. The drawn surface lays bare the bones – the skeleton that underlies much of her art – and can be likened to the veins, sinews and contours seen in the body of the land from above. The network of white lines traces the patterns of the arterial roots of the finger yam, Anooralya.

The lines bear a resemblance to the arterial roots of the yam below the ground, which mirror the crazed pattern of cracked earth above, caused by tubers when they ripen and expand. People locate the food by digging down through the cracks.

The power and energy of this work evokes the rich vitality of the earth infused with ancestral connections, celebrating the Yam from Emily's major Dreaming cycle – a big painting for Emily's biggest story.

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