Well you got dreams and you know they matter
Be your own boss, climb your own ladder
That moment’s getting closer by the day
— Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 (1980/2021)
Kaylene Whiskey has become best known for her iconic depictions of strong female figures taken from popular culture and overlayed with fragments of everyday life in her remote community of Indulkana on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands. Her paintings are embedded with joyous energy, word play and irreverent humour.
In this exhibition we see many familiar characters regularly featured in Whiskey’s paintings such as Catwoman, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner and Cher. Whiskey draws connections to the story of the Seven Sisters, representing the heroic power of women across time and culture. In the tryptic Seven Sistas Story (2021), Baywatch actor David Hasselhoff stands in for the Wati Nyiru man ready to chase the sisters beyond the stars to ‘a really BIG party…yeah!’. Throughout the exhibition the sisters sing, dance and drink Coca-Cola while partying at the Iwantja Art Centre, where the artist spends almost every day in the studio painting and listening to a variety of country, pop and rock’n’roll. The rhythm and energy of the music seeps into her paintings, while Whiskey effortlessly weaves her connection to Country and celebration of culture throughout.
Whiskey engages a comic strip style through her use of image sequencing and text bubbles. Her figures often appear atop an unadorned backdrop like they’ve been pulled directly from her imagination. As viewers we are engulfed within her rich, vibrant world filled with reoccurring motifs such as the 1970s box TV playing NITV, mingkulpa (used for chewing tobacco) growing out of decorated pots, strings of party lights that refer to the local community Christmas light competition, and the repetition of clocks that, according to Whiskey, tell us ‘what time the party starts’.
This exhibition also features Whiskey’s painted intervention on a discarded road sign that once directed tourist traffic towards Iwantja when its focus was on souvenirs. By subverting the use of the sign, Whiskey engages it instead to attract her beloved characters towards the art centre. Whiskey has also created a series of five smaller paintings on torn out pages from tourist magazines collected from vintage stores in Alice Springs. These works feel like a reclamation of land and agency explored through the tension between the original purpose of the photographs - previously used to promote Central Australia to tourists - and Whiskey’s deep relationship to and knowledge of Country.
With her unique visual language, iconography and use of colour, Whiskey is creating her own feminist anthems through her paintings. Whiskey’s representation of sisterhood and female empowerment highlights her desire for celebration, empathy, connection and coming together.
— Elyse Goldfinch