Polly Ngale is one of the most senior custodians of her country Arlparra (or Ahalpere), in the heart of Utopia, located in the north west corner of the Simpson desert and roughly 350km north east of Alice Springs, along the Sandover Highway.
Polly belongs to the oldest living generation of Utopia women and her artistic career began in the late 1970s when she, like many of the women in Utopia, began working with silk batik before venturing into works on canvas.
She is considered one of the most accomplished painters from the Utopia region and is inspired by the Arnwetky (conkerberry) - a green tangled, spiny shrub that produces fragrant white flowers. After the summer rains tiny green berries begin to grow and ripen, changing colour over the weeks from light green to pinks and browns to yellow, to shades of red and purple when they finally ripen. The fruits very much resemble a plum and is often referred to in English by Polly as a 'bush plum'. The Arnwetky is a popular variety of bush tucker for the people of Utopia, as well as possessing medicinal properties.
During the Dreamtime, winds came from all directions, carrying the Arnwetky seed all over Polly's ancestors' Anmatyerre land. To ensure the continued fruiting of the Arnwetky, the Anmatyerre people pay homage to the spirit of the bush plum by recreating it in their ceremonies through song and dance, and in recent years, through painting. The patterns in the paintings can represent the fruit of the plant, its leaves and flowers, and also the body paint designs that are associated with it during ceremony.
For Anmatyerre women, the bush plum is a source of physical and spiritual sustenance - reminding them of the sacredness of Ahalpere country. Its story is crucial to Anmatyerre women's ceremonies.
Polly’s depictions of Arnwetky are the accumulation of a lifetime's knowledge about the country that she loves and feels a personal responsibility to care for. The power of the art resonates across geographical, botanical and spiritual dimensions.
Polly shares this country and the Bush Plum (Arnwetky) Dreaming with her sisters Kathleen Ngale and Angeline Pwerle Ngale. Like Kathleen, Polly creates her paintings by building up layer upon layer of colour to create multi-dimensional images. The two have often collaborated and painted together.
Polly's paintings are borne from traditional knowledge and her confident approach to painting can be seen in the way she assembles streams of seeds, piling dots upon each other to create rich thick fields employing glowing palettes of colour. Polly's works range from extremely fine dotting techniques with either interspersed colours or areas of varying colours and depth all blending together across the canvas. Through extensive over-dotting, she builds up layers of colour, blending or separate, to give a wealth of different and very attractive paint effects.
Since 1999, Polly's work has been exhibited extensively both in Australia and overseas and in recent years. Her work has appeared in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award since 2003. Her honourable mention as a 2004 finalist was followed by representation at the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris at the Grand Palais Champs Elysees. Polly was also represented in the exhibition Emily Kngwarreye and her Legacy at the Hillside Forum Daikanyama Tokyo in 2008.