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Behind the scenes

WARNING: Relatives of the artist are advised that images of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and other Aboriginal people who might be deceased appear in this exhibition and website.

The story of Big Yam Dreaming 1995

Watch the story of Big Yam Dreaming, including footage of the artist painting the work as well as the army of museum professionals required to prepare this work for travel.

The three-by-eight metre canvas must be unstretched and rolled onto a specially designed bobbin which fits into a custom-made crate to travel. Then it is re-stretched before being mounted on the wall. Each time this monumental canvas is moved it requires over a dozen people to unroll, re-stretch and install.

Video icon View a short film of an unrolling of Big Yam DreamingDuration: 1 minute, 54 seconds
File size: 3.8mb

Artwork, Big Yam Dreaming
Big Yam Dreaming 1995Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 291.1 x 801.9cm.
© Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Licensed Viscopy 08.

Emily completed this epic work in only two days, the same time it took assistants to prime the canvas black. She sat cross-legged on the three-by-eight 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.

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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