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Emily Kam Kngwarray: Anwerlarr anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming) 1995


Event Status

Emily Kam Kngwarray’s monumental artwork Big Yam Dreaming represents a central aspect of her cultural heritage.

The network of bold white lines on black, derived from women’s striped body paintings, suggests the roots of the pencil yam spreading beneath the ground — and the cracks in the ground created as it ripens.

Kngwarray’s country, Alhalker, is an important Anwerlarr (Pencil Yam) Dreaming site, the staple from which she takes her bush name, Kam (yam seed).

We’ll look at Aboriginal agriculture and land management, and the significance of yams – as food and cultural icon, in places as far-flung as Tonga and Central Australia.

Judith Ryan, senior curator of Indigenous Art at NGV, will talk about the artwork and place it in context.

Matt Preston, Masterchef’s resident food critic, will talk about true yams, finger yams, and the cultural importance of the yam in cultures such as Tonga and West Africa.

Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe will talk about Aboriginal agriculture and land management.

Wurundjeri artist Mandy Nicholson will speak on the role of women in Aboriginal society, then and now.

Artist Clinton Nain will speak.

And author Ellen van Neerven will respond creatively to the work.

Australian Art Starting Conversations

Certain timeless works of art make us see the world differently. By experiencing famous paintings or sculptures, we can form an idea of what life was like when they were created.

But how much can iconic art teach us about the world today? Taking four historical works as a starting point, our guests make a series of lateral leaps to explore the diversity of the modern world through the prism of classic art.

After a curator from the National Gallery of Victoria places the work in context, five different speakers will explore the tangents that arise, leading the discussion surrounding the piece in new and unexpected directions. The evening concludes with a creative response directly inspired by the artwork itself.

In this instalment hosted by Michael Williams, guests – including food journalist and television personality Matt Preston, artists Mandy Nicholson and Clinton Nain, authors Bruce Pascoe and Ellen van Neerven, and the NGV’s senior curator of Indigenous Art, Judith Ryan – will present ideas, stories and observations inspired by Emily Kam Kngwarray’s Anwerlarr anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming).

Please enter through the North entrance, via Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt.

Presented by the Wheeler Centre and the NGV.


Judith Ryan

Judith Ryan AM is Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Judith received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Fine Arts and English Literature at The University of Melbourne and a Certificate in Education at Oxford University. In her role at the NGV she has curatorial... Read more

Michael Williams

Michael Williams joined Sydney Writers’ Festival in September 2020, as the Artistic Director navigating the post-pandemic landscape going into the 2021 festival. He has spent the past decade at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne; as its founding Head of Programming in 200... Read more

Clinton Nain

Clinton Nain (G’ua G’ua and Meriam) is an artist. He was born in 1971 in Melbourne, Victoria and lives and works in Melbourne. Clinton held his first solo exhibition in 1996 at Hogarth Galleries, Sydney. He has since been represented in Blak City Culture, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, ... Read more

Mandy Nicholson

Mandy is a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of Melbourne and surrounds and currently lives in the South Eastern Suburbs. Mandy is a recognised artist, qualified Archaeologist and leader of the Djirri Djirri Dance Group. Mandy has been working at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages... Read more

Matt Preston

Matt Preston is an award-winning food journalist, restaurant critic and television personality. Best known as a judge and co-host of MasterChef Australia, Preston is also a senior editor for delicious and taste magazine. Preston has now appeared in six series of the ratings success MasterChef series... Read more

Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (South East Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Lit... Read more

Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe is a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. He’s the author of the best-selling Dark Emu, Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia and over thirty other books including the short story collections Night Animals... Read more


Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, NGV International

180 St Kilda Road Melbourne Victoria 3000

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.