Sylvia Kanytjupai Ken

Photography by Meg Hansen

Sylvia Kanytjupai Ken (born 1965) has created her Tjukurpa as extraordinarily vibrant and compelling paintings since 1999. In 2019 her painting Seven Sisters won the prestigious Wynne Prize (awarded by the Art Gallery of New South Wales). This is a narrative of the Pleiades constellations (the sisters) and a sinister man who followed them, within a richly evocative landscape. Painted in reds, purples and oranges with white dots scattered over depths of colour, it depicts the rock holes, waterholes and places that the story traverses.

Ken has worked at Tjala Arts (formerly Minymaku Arts) with her family since 1999 and her depictions of the Seven Sisters story have attracted attention since she began exhibiting in 2000. She said, “I paint my family’s side of the country where the Sisters travelled through Cave Hill and Alkunyunta, all the way through to Kuli. My right to paint this part of the Dreaming is established. Tjukurpa mulapa means a really important and true story.”

Ken was born and schooled in Amata. She began painting after leaving school, working also with batik printed on silk. While she has always worked with the Seven Sisters story, in recent years she has developed a new approach to this important family narrative. Her preference is to work with “new colours and I like to choose my own paints: light purple and dark purple, black, red, yellow and cream colours. I don’t like green. I prefer to use thick paint and to paint with a stick”.

In 2019, Ken was awarded the Wynne Prize for her landscape Seven Sisters from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She has been a repeat finalist in the Telstra National Indigenous Art Award (2013, 2014, 2018), and her work has been widely exhibited throughout Australia and in Singapore. Her work is in significant national and international collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, QAGOMA, Brisbane, and the Brocard-Estrangin Collection, Lagerberg Swift Collection, Richard and Harriette England Collection and the Marshall Collection.

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