The Barbara Weir story

When the native welfare men came to steal nine-year-old Barbara Weir from her Central Desert home, they took her away from her language, culture and family.
The daughter of an Aboriginal woman and a white station owner, Barbara Weir felt like a foreigner when she finally returned to the Utopia region north-east of Alice Springs with six children of her own more than a decade later in the 1960s.
After years of speaking only English in schools and foster families around Australia, the young woman had forgotten her childhood Anmatyerre-Alywarre languages and found herself estranged from her mother and isolated from the culture and law of her traditional lands.

But Barbara Weir's future regained focus when her aunt, the late, great artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, whose paintings now command more than $1 million, took her under her wing and helped her re-learn her culture and inspired her to express herself through art.
 "If it wasn't for her, I probably would have left," says Weir, in Perth ' for her latest exhibition. "It was very hard. It took a long time to reconnect with my mother. It was hard for her, too, to have me turn up when she had eight other kids there and they didn't know anything about me."
By the 1980s, Barbara Weir had regained much of her lost culture and rose to become the first female leader of the Aboriginal Land Council that achieved land rights for the people of Utopia.
She began painting in 1988 and, inspired by a series of batik workshops, her art flowered as the Utopia art movement — led by Kngwarreye, Weir, the seven Petyarre sisters and others — attracted international attention. Their success encouraged Barbara Weir's mother, Minnie Pwerle, to start painting on canvas in 1998, at nearly 80. Pwerle became a prolific and noted artist before her death in 2006.
Barbara Weir's father died in the late 1940s but she remains in close contact with her other white relatives after being determined to forge ties with her stepbrother, who runs five cattle stations in the Northern Territory. "He lives his life and I live mine but he is very glad for what I am doing," Weir says.
The breakthrough in her career came in 1996 with a trip to Europe, where a collector asked her to run some workshops. Her work from that time impressed overseas buyers but until then no one was buying her work in Australia.
 "At the time I thought it was because people thought I wasn't fully blackfella," she says.
Now in her 60s, Barbara Weir commands prices of more than $100,000 for her paintings and she splits her time between Adelaide, where her son, Fred Torres, runs a gallery of Utopia art, a studio in Alice Springs and her traditional lands of Utopia.
Her Perth exhibition came about after she met businesswoman and art patron Janet Holmes a Court for the first time at the opening of a landmark Kngwarreye retrospective in Osaka, Japan, last February.
Holmes a Court had lent a large number of paintings for the show, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, the biggest ever international exhibition for an Australian artist.
In the year since, Barbara Weir has worked flat-out to produce the 20 works on display at the Holmes a Court Gallery. Two monumental works, including one of 3m x 6m, reflect her two distinctive styles: the linear brushstrokes of her dense, swaying Grass Seed Dreaming pictures and the all-over dotting technique of her My Mother's Country paintings.
Barbara Weir says she wants people to enjoy the joyful elements in her art and to see that Aboriginal art is a thriving, contemporary art movement. "I am still learning all the time," she says.

Article by Stephen Bevis - TODAY The West Australian

Click here o view DACOUs paintings by Barbara Weir

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