Yam Increase Centre was painted in 1992 when Emily was at the height of her powers as an artist after the breakthrough of Summer Awelye I, 1991, and yet four years before her death in 1996. It is a celebration of her country: her yam country. Its vibrant colours show her at the height of her powers and well exemplify her as "the Australian Monet".
Emily had begun to lose her sight and so used large brushed and worked in large brushstrokes and clumps of dots. Yam was one of her major dreamings (or totems) and the title refers to ceremonies relating to the fertility of the land and the natural increase of the yams. Underneath the orange and yellow dots which are perhaps first noticed, and which represent the surface of the country, are the roots of the yam represented by the wavering interweaving lines. In Emily's last works these wavering lines were to dominate and the dotting over them was abandoned; but here they serve as a base for the dots. The colour of the dotting are those of her country in early spring with green growth sprouting through the yellow and orange of the country. The whole work is a hymm to country.
This painting can be read as being about death and rebirth: the coming of spring in Europeanistic conceptions of the seasons. However all human cultures have experienced and experience "spring", that is a season of growth after winter, a season of warmer climate when rain usually falls and plants sprout. It was Sir James Frazer in the later editions of The Golden Bough who first referred to this idea amongst the Australian aborigines. Frazer's work itself owed a debt to the works of Spencer and Gillen, the first whites to write extensively about the central and northern desert Aboriginal peoples. However death and rebirth seen in the growth of vegetation in country is very ancient in human affairs and occurs in all cultures.
It is no exaggeration to see Yam Increase Centre 1992 as a Christian work. But this is simply to say that the basic Christian beliefs are universal. (Frazer in The Golden Bough had launched a massive attack on Christianity by linking it to myths of death and rebirths in ancient Eygpt without once highlighting Christianity; however he only succeeded in reinforcing Christian beliefs by giving them universality.) Strangely the present Anglican Primate and eminent theologian Peter Camley in his 1987 work The Structure of Resurrection Belief does not mention Frazer of the Australian Aborigines. But their 200 year old interaction with Christianity has been explored by John Harris in his masterly One Blood (1990).
Yam Increase Centre 1992 fairly glows at night. This is possibly because it was done under artificial light. It is then that its true luminous and vibrant qualities appear: an expression of the remarkable personality of Emily Kngwarreye but also of her skin and language groups and of Aboriginal cultures in general and human culture in particular.
We are grateful to Mr Paul Knobel for providing this catalogue entry.