Tjungkara Ken

Photography by Meg Hansen

Tjungkara Ken was born in Amata (SA) in 1969 and was one of the first young artists to begin working with Tjala Arts (in 1997). Ken said, “I do paintings about my country. That’s ngura: rockholes and the land, the hills and big creek beds. Sometimes I do stories about the Seven Sisters and about country.” She works both as a solo artist and with family, and is one of five sisters who have painted as Ken Sisters Collaborative. Their painting Seven Sisters was awarded the Wynne Prize in 2016.

Ken and her sister Yaritji Young were also profiled at Sydney Contemporary in 2017 where they responded to paintings by Ben Quilty. Of this exchange, Young noted, “What we do share with artists outside the Lands when we have the opportunity to connect is also so very important. We share ideas about colour and movement, about scale and energy. We share our love for painting… Sometimes paintings can talk to each other just like artists talk to each other.” For Tjungkara, the project was about paint on the canvas, about looking at what Quilty was able to achieve with a palette knife and its similarity to the way she does her waka waka (dots). The painting celebrates colour and tells a story that is hers, observing the way colour may highlight, define and create depth and contrast.

Ken paints both her mother’s country (Wingalina), the ngintaka dreaming, and her father’s Apara story. She said, “Now that I know how to do really good paintings, I only paint with punu sticks and not a brush… When we do paintings it’s like looking down from the top, like looking from an aeroplane.”

Ken is part of the Ken Sisters Collaborative (along with Yaritji Young, Freda Brady, Maringka Tunkin and Sandra Ken), who were awarded the Wynne Prize in 2016. She was a finalist in the 2017 Archibald Prize and the 2019 Wynne Prize and is a repeat finalist in the Telstra Award (2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2010. She 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, Laverty Collection, Richard and Harriette England Collection.

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