Margaret Rarru Garrawurra is a senior artist, master weaver and respected elder in her community. She is renowned for her ‘Madonna Bra’ bathi (baskets) and wearable pieces, as well as her minimalist miṉḏirr mol (black conical baskets). The specific recipe for creating mol (black) dye from local plants was refined by Rarru and is reserved for her use and for those to whom she grants permission, including Mandy Batjula Gaykamaŋu. After taking to weaving at a young age, she has developed her craft throughout her life and has contributed immensely to the development of fibre as a contemporary art form.
Helen Ganalmirriwuy Garrawurra is a celebrated weaver who works at Milingimbi Art and Culture in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. She has been weaving since a young age and is continually finding new methods of weaving natural fibres into miṉḏirrga bathi (conical bags and baskets), mät (2D artworks) and wearable works of art. Her work is identified by fine attention to detail, precise technique and a striking use of miny’tji (designs). Seemingly simple in their presentation, the designs she weaves are embedded with clan knowledge, relating to specific Country, sacred waterholes, ancestral spirits, clan totems and responsibilities. For Ganalmirriwuy, weaving provides an unbroken link with her ancestors.
Ruth Nalmakarra Garrawurra is a dedicated senior artist, educator and cultural leader for her community. She was born and raised in Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) and in the late 1960s moved to Yurrwi (Milingimbi), where she resides today. She began weaving as a young girl and learnt to paint from her family during the Ŋarra (cleansing) ceremony time, during which clan designs, miny’tji, are applied to the body. The limited palette and geometric designs used in her weaving and painting are informed by these clan designs, of which she is a custodian.
Mandy Batjula Gaykamaŋu is the daughter of esteemed community leader Helen Milminydjarrk. She lives and works alongside her mother and mother’s sisters, including senior artists Ruth Nalmakarra Garrawurra, Margaret Rarru Garrawurra and Helen Ganalmirriwuy Garrawurra. Despite her being one of the younger artists at Milingimbi Art and Culture, the precision and detail of her work is of a standard usually attributed to the most senior of weavers. As well as being an accomplished weaver, she also paints her clan designs associated with the Djaŋ’kawu Sisters on bark, larrakitj (memorial poles) and archival paper.
The 16 baskets made by Rarru, Ganalmirriwuy and Nalmakarra express their identity as members of the Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra clan as well as their connections to the Gorryindi, Mäḻarra and Gamalaŋga clans. Their Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra designs are limited to a palette of red, white and yellow and applied as stripes, circles and triangles. Their miṉḏirr adorned with these designs express their Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra identity, whereas other miṉḏirr with alternating colours running vertically through horizontal bands express their grandmother’s Gamalaŋga clan and the closely affiliated Mäḻarra and Gorryindi clans. Recently, Mandy Batjula Gaykamungu was granted permission by Rarru to create works using Rarru’s iconic black dying process, into which she has incorporated her own distinct coil technique. Imbued in all these bold designs is an intricate knowledge of Country, kinship and law.
Watch Helen Ganalmirriwuy_Gunga’puy Dhäwu as she shares the harvesting, preparing, dying and weaving process (Milingimbi Art and Culture)
Watch master weaver and colour dyer Laŋani Marika, the most senior elder of the Rirratjiŋu clan, impart her colour knowledge this video installation by The Mulka Project of Northeast Arnhem Land.
Why do you think it is important that the artists make their works together? What is the benefit of creating works of art in this way?
Other than making objects such as baskets and bags, what else might weaving be useful for?
The fibres the artists use to make their works are strongly connected to place and culture. Is there a plant or flower that is connected to your family or one you associate with a place you have a connection to?
The daily routine for all the weavers is set by the rhythm of harvesting, preparing, dying and weaving bush fibres. Research each of these processes. Compare this rhythm to how Ngarrindjeri artist Yvonne Koolmatrie collects and prepares the sedge she uses for her woven works. Consider the environment where these artists live and make their work.
Select one work of art made by each of the artists. Use a view finder to isolate a section of each of the baskets and draw in detail what you see. Compare your drawings – what do you notice about the differences in style or technique used by the different artists?
Using string, newspaper, recycled paper, calico or natural fibres, make a detailed wearable work of art that responds to the place where you live in. Consider using a limited colour palette as the artists have in their baskets.
The artists use materials found in their environment to create their baskets. Find materials in your environment that could be used for weaving, knotting and coiling. These might be natural materials found outside, but they could also be materials destined for landfill such as old T-shirts that could be cut into strips or plastic bags and packaging. Make a bag, basket or bowl using this material.
You could turn this activity into a science lesson. As a class, hypothesise, experiment and then test which bag can hold the most weight. Discuss the materials and techniques used to make the strongest and weakest bags.
Look below at a variety of baskets or bags made by other artists. What do you notice that is similar and different about them? Consider their shape, material and where they were made. Research what these bags are used for. Which bags do you think would be the most functional, durable or sustainable to make? Rank the bags from most to least functional, providing reasons why. Is your decision based on the size, shape, technique or materials? If you were able to touch them, what would each one feel like?
Tip: Look at the works by Theresa Munkara, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Mary Marabamba, Julie Djulibing Malibirr, Rosie Wudingurrkku, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Debra Wurrkidj, Shirley Minyingarla, Jennifer Mye Jr and Vicki West.
To colour her baskets, Rarru first used the black dye made from local plants. Experiment with dying paper and fabric using a variety of natural dyes made from organic materials such as leaves, plants (including some vegetables – skin and roots), spices, coffee and tea. Perhaps you will invent a new colour! Use your fabric or paper to make a vessel or bag.
Tip: Place the fabric over an object (bowl, balloon, drink bottle etc) to provide support for the fabric in casting its form. Add PVA glue to the fabric to make it firm as it dries.