4 November to 16 December 2017
Bábbarra Designs, a contemporary art textile centre in the community of Maningrida, is Aboriginal owned and governed, run by women for women. It is one of a small group of Indigenous textile-producing art centres in Australia that design, print and sew product onsite, in community. Each silk-screened length of fabric is a bold and elegant story/text that tells ancestral stories and of the lives of the Bábbarra women: referencing the life of the land and its foods and plants, bush crafts, as well as ancestral stories, or djang / wangarr.
The innovative variation in design reflects the area's immense cultural and linguistic diversity: the artists and artworkers are from over 12 language groups and many different clans from surrounding homelands. They come together to share cultures and stories through art, design and textile production. Bábbarra artists have trained in a number of textile mediums but most specialise in handcrafted lino-tile designs or screen printing onto fabric. Each piece is unique with varying tile and colour combinations.
Bábbarra is led by the strong voices of Bábbarra Women’s Governance Board. Bábbarra Women’s Centre has a proud history of positive social impact and works to change the narrative about the economic vulnerability of Indigenous women. From the early days, established by women as a refuge in 1983, Bábbarra has supported the lives of Aboriginal women . Babbarra Designs, the major activity at the Women's Centre, has been in operation since 1989. The centre provides employment and training opportunities by operating sustainable business enterprises. (The centre also runs night patrol, a cleaning crew and an op-shop and other activities and have refurbished five outstation women's centres.)
Bábbarra artists are saltwater and freshwater, most still living on Country in a region encompassing 7,000 square kilometres. Bábbarra is a word in the Ndjébbana language of the Kunibídji people on whose country the community of Maningrida in Arnhem Land lies. It is the name of a place belonging to the Dukúrrdji clan. You say ‘Bábbarra’ with the stress on the first syllable: ‘bá’.
Sources: statement from Bábbarra Designs, September 2017 and Talking Up Textiles: Community Fabric and Indigenous Industry, ANKA, 2013.
About the Artists & Artworks
Mandjabu (Fish Trap) (detail)
Susan Marawarr is a leading textile artist who has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2001. She has strong artistic family connections, being the daughter of Anchor Kulunba and Mary Marabamba, and the sister of acclaimed bark painters James Iyuna and John Mawurndjul. Marawarr is an accomplished printmaker, sculptor, weaver and bark painter. She collaborated with Waanyi artist Judy Watson for Watson’s public art commission of bronze fish fences and dillybags installed at Sydney International Airport, and toured the USA with Bush Colour, promoting the work of female printmakers.
Mandjabu (Fish Trap)
Artwork detail above
Kuninjku people traditionally make two sorts of conical fish traps. One called mandjabu made from a vine called milil, and another smaller one called manylik mandjabu, made from the grass manylik. The mandjabu conical fish trap is bigger and stronger and used in tidal reaches of creeks to catch large fish. The smaller, lighter manylik trap is used in freshwater flowing creeks to catch smaller fish and freshwater prawns. Traditionally, only men were involved in the construction of the large fish traps, but children would often crawl inside and assist.
To make fish traps and fish net fences artists firstly get vine (milil) from the jungle and they put it in water for one night to make it soft. Next they start weaving it; they make rings for the inside to keep the fish trap’s shape. Artists work for three or four weeks on the fish trap. They also make string from kurrajong (burdaga) to attach the hibiscus (bardainy) rings and to tie the conical end of the fish trap. This fish trap is used in saltwater and freshwater. People also use fish net fences called mun-dirra. A long time ago they would put the mun-dirra across rivers and creeks. In the middle they would place the an-gujechiya. They also used small things like sticks, rocks, mud and grass to block the fish from going through. People would then catch fish like saltwater barramundi rajarra, freshwater barramundi (janambal), small black freshwater catfish (buliya), bonefish (an-guwirrpiya), and sand bass (dalakan) in these fish traps.
Ngarduk Kured (My Country) (detail)
Helen Lanyinwanga is a senior textile artist who has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2008. She often depicts her strong stone country and sacred rock themes in her designs. Helen has a key role mentoring young and emerging artists, and she is mother to leading Bábbarra artists including Jennifer Wurrkidj and Deborah Wurrkidj, and grandmother to Ruth Bindiedbal.
Helen is also an accomplished artist in other mediums, notably basket weavings and prints on paper, for which she is represented by Maningrida Arts & Culture. Her artwork has toured the United States and been exhibited throughout Australia, and her textile art is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
Ngarduk Kured (My Country)
Artwork detail above
“This river we call Mangabo. It is near Gudjarrngarrl homeland of my daughters, Deborah and Jennifer Wurrkidj. We cross that river when travelling to Munmoy outstation. In the wet season, that water comes up and covers over those rocks, and when you look down there are rocks all under the water.” – Helen Lanyinwanga
Manyawok (Cheeky Yam) (detail)
Belinda Kuriniya has worked with Bábbarra Designs as a printmaker since the mid 1990s. She was born on her outstation, Marrkolidjban, south-west of Manayingkarírra. Belinda’s textiles have been exhibited across Australia and internationally in China and Mexico.
Manyawok (Cheeky Yam)
Artwork detail above
This design depicts the cheeky yam, which is found on the artist’s country, near the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land. Yams are an important bush food that are collected during the wet season. Unlike other yams that can be eaten roasted, if not properly prepared, the cheeky yam can be poisonous. The preparation process of the yam traditionally takes two days. Firstly, the yams are dug up with a digging stick and boiled over a fire. They are then peeled and sliced into thin strips. The pieces of cheeky yam are then placed in a special woven dillybag made by women from pandanus leaves. The yam-laden dillybag is then strung into a river from an overhanging branch, so the bag just touches the running fresh water. The cheeky yams are left overnight so that running water removes their toxins. The next morning, people return and collect the dillybag, and leave the yam pieces in full sunlight to dry out. Finally, when the yam pieces have dried in the sun for a day, they are ready to eat.
Kunronj (Freshwater Story) (detail)
Jennifer Wurrkidj is a highly regarded textile artist who has been working at Bábbarra Designs since 2007. Her print designs often feature bush foods and food-collecting and reference the activities of ancestor beings and the ceremonial sites of her homeland, Mumeka. Jennifer works at Bábbarra Women’s Centre alongside other members of her family who are also accomplished artists: her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Deborah Wurrkidj. She is a daughter of Australia’s most highly acclaimed bark painter, John Mawurndjul, and she is renowned, in her own right, for her bark paintings, hollow logs and carved sculptures. Jennifer’s artwork has been exhibited throughout Australia and her textile art is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. She is a graduate of the ANKA Arts Worker Training Program.
Kunronj (Freshwater Story)
Artwork detail above
This image depicts important man-me (food) from freshwater environments on Jennifer’s country and the implements used to gather these items. The kun-karninj or digging stick is used to dig for wayuk (waterlily) roots called burdbarrk, which are eaten fresh from the water or cooked on an open fire. The kun-karninj is also used to find and dig freshwater kormdaw (turtles) that hibernate on the floodplains during the dry season. Various fish species including the bilmu (barramundi), as shown here, are hunted with a spear or trapped inside a woven fish trap. This man-me is carried within kun-madj (dillybags), which are woven with fibres from the pandanus tree, kun-dayarr.
Manwak (Mumeka Blooms) (detail)
Deborah Wurrkidj is a highly regarded, versatile artist who has readily adapted to new art forms while retaining her strong clan traditions. She has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 1991, alongside her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Jennifer Wurrkidj. She is a leading textile artist and an integral member of Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Deborah’s work is vibrant, tactile and intricate, evocative of the local natural environment as well as referencing her deep cultural knowledge. Her extensive body of textile art is illustrative of the artistic innovation that has occurred in Maningrida in recent times and that is apparent in her work in other mediums also. Deborah is also renowned for her bark painting, lorrkkon (hollow logs), and fibre baskets. She has exhibited widely since 2001, throughout Australia as well as in Europe and the United States. She is represented in most of Australia’s state gallery collections. She is a graduate of the ANKA Arts Worker Training Program.
Manwak (Mumeka Blooms)
Artwork detail above
Manwak grows near Mumeka creek, on the artist’s homeland. This beautiful large flower blooms during the mandjelk (wet season). It has deep green petals with a central red kernel which swells to the size of a berry. It is known for its long, sweeping petals which seem to dance in the winds. By dry season, the inside kernel resembles a strawberry in appearance and flavour, but is also very spicy so it burns our mouth. Kids and adults pick these berries enthusiastically when walking or going hunting on my country. The inside of the flowers are eaten fresh, a favourite manme (bush food) of our people.
“When I was painting this Manwak story, I was painting in Maningrida. In my head I was dreaming of being on my homeland, eating ripe Manwak berries” - Deborah Wurrkidj
Emerging / New Artists
Lennie Goya-Airra is an integral member of our textile clothing team. She is an accomplished sewing-machinist and contributor to the development of Bábbarra’s clothing and homewares product lines. Lennie Goya-Airra is from the Buluhkaduru homeland, one-hour’s drive south-west of Maningrida, and worked for many years managing the Buluhkaduru outstation Women’s Centre. There she supervised women sewing and printing daily on the outdoor deck of the women’s centre.
Raylene Bonson is a talented textile artist, specialising in linocut technique. She has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2012. Raylene was mentored by her late mother, Nancy Gununwanga, a senior textile artist at Bábbarra Designs and a founding member of Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Raylene is well known for her designs depicting ancestral stories and ceremonial objects, in particular lorrkkon (hollow log for burial ceremony), kunmadj (dillybag) and mandjabu (conical fishtrap).
Belinda is an emerging young artist with strong skills in hand carving lino designs, a medium through which she often depicts significant natural plants from her mother’s country (the central desert) and a good eye for colour layering. Belinda’s mother is from Eastern Aranda country near Alice Springs, the community of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), and her father’s country is Maningrida. Belinda speaks languages from both sides of her family, as well as various languages belonging to Central Arnhem Land.
Lucy is an emerging textile artist as well as an office worker at Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Lucy often references her ancestral stories in her textile work, including Buwaluba (woman spirit). Lucy is from the Gurr-goni language group – one of the least commonly spoken languages in Arnhem Land.
BÁB-BARRA artists model fabric and designs for Darwin Art Fair, July 2017.
Deborah Wurrkidj, Manwak (Mumeka Blooms). Silkscreen on cloth
Manwak grows near Mumeka creek, on the artist’s homeland. “This beautiful large flower blooms during the mandjelk (wet season). It has deep green petals with a central red kernel which swells to the size of a berry. It is known for its long, sweeping petals which seem to dance in the winds. By dry season, the inside kernel resembles a strawberry in appearance and flavour, but is also very spicy so it burns our mouth. Kids and adults pick these berries enthusiastically when walking or going hunting on my country. The inside of the flowers are eaten fresh, a favourite manme (bush food) of our people”. Deborah Wurrkidj
Lennie Goya-Airra and Deborah Wurrkidj and printing at the Barbara Designs workshop, September 2017.
Artist biographies: https://babbarra.com/artists/
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