Colour is life, and how to find colour demonstrates knowledge of Country, which is required to sustain life.
Colour country is a collection of fibre works made by eleven women artists, Doreen Djorlom, Gwenyth Mangiru, Josie Maralngurra, Leanne Nabarlambarl, Robyn Nabegeyo, Kayla Nagurrgurrba, Agnes Nalunjdjuk, Lorraine Namamyilk, Connie Nayinggul, Christine Ngalbarndidj Nabobbob and Merrill Ngalkalkdjam Namundja, working at Injalak Arts Centre, Gunbalanya in West Arnhem Land. Injalak Arts has been running as an Aboriginal owned Art Centre since 1989 and continues to break new ground with their art making while honouring the ancient traditions of the Kunwinjku people.
Injalak Art Centre supports a diverse range of arts practices. They run a screen-printing textile studio producing works on paper and fabric, which has led to numerous collaborations and featured in acclaimed fashion collections. Injalak artists are highly regarded for their paintings, on both bark and paper, as well as wood carvings. Colour country focuses on fibre works made of woven pandanus dyed with colours extracted from Country. Highlighting the specific hues found in the depths of Arnhem Land and the intricate weaving techniques that the women have developed and refined.
The process of making these pieces is time consuming physical work. Women walk the land and waterways collecting roots, berries, and leaves, striping the spikey pandanus and crushing and boiling the botanical samples to create their dyes. They then come together to weave the brightly coloured fibres into the forms we see here.
The artists involved in Colour country rely on their deep cultural knowledge and understanding of Country to find and collect the materials for their work. Plants are harvested at times of the year that are recognised only by those with generational knowledge of the land. The length of the grass, the fruits, and flowers, indicate the seasons for harvesting specific colours. As a result, the artists are left with tangible memories of each season woven into their work. Colours representing the physical journeys through Country in search of prized Windilk (Haemodorum coccineum) for purple or Kunngobarn (Pandanus spiralis) for green. The artists literally live by their connection to Country, collecting materials in challenging environments shared with crocodiles and other wildlife.
In Kunwinjku culture, brightness and vibrancy is highly valued. Colour is life force, as embodied by the creation ancestor Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent), who can be seen in water droplets refracting at the many waterfalls on Country. The word medjmakmen explains the brightening of something, such as root vegetables late in the wet season or a work of fibre art that has been given a rich colour through dyeing. Colour is life, and how to find colour demonstrates knowledge of Country, which is required to sustain life. Philosophy is to be found in the knots and coils of these works of fibre art.
- Locate Gunbalanya on a map of Australia. Research the climate and environment of West Arnhem Land. How does it differ to where you are living?
- From your research list some of the challenges that the Injalak artists may face in collecting the materials they require for their work.
- Colour treasure hunt: Create a colour chart and take it on a walk outside. Collect items from your natural environment and place them on the colour chart.
- Research the history of your favourite colour. Where did it originate and how was it extracted to create a pigment that could be used in other materials such as fabric, paint, etc.
- Many of the dyes used in Colours of Country are made by crushing and boiling parts of plants. Collect samples of plants in your local area and experiment with extracting colours. Perhaps by crushing and boiling. Alternatively, try pressing freshly picked specimens between dampened paper or fabric through a rolling mill or flower press.
- Look at the Kunwinjku calendar published on the CSIRO website. As a class create a similar template that you can add to over the course of the year, documenting your observations of the changes in nature especially the colours that each seasons brings.
- Shine bright! Dip-dye an old shirt to breathe new life into the garment. You could use a dye you have created from natural sources. Add sequins, beads, or brightly coloured stitching to really add some spark!
- Material matters. To create their work for Colour country the women walked through Country harvesting raw materials that were then processed for working. Walk through your environment collecting potential making materials. Include natural objects such as twigs, leaves, feathers, as well as things like wire, plastic, or paper waste. Return to the classroom and prepare the materials for the making process. You may need wash, trim, file, paint or dye the collected items. Use these materials to build a sculpture that reflects the environment they came from.
- Colour country is a record of the changes that occur on Kunwinjku Country over the year. Do you have any items/objects that remind you of a particular time and place?
- What time of year do you most look forward to, and why? Can you associate any sensory memories with this time. Colours, sounds, scents, touch. Without telling the audience your chosen time, describe the sensory memory and have them guess the time of year you have in mind.
Present your thoughts a poem and/or create a collage that focuses on colour and texture. For example:
Late spring on Kaurna Country
The colours are clear, blue, green, yellow. Intense lilac purple lines the streets
Mostly crisp shapes, with some soft scalloped edges
Bird song is noisy, particularly in the early morning
The air smells sweet and is warm
It’s good to go without shoes and feel the ground beneath our feet,
Still soft from rain, not yet dry from sun
Easter at Hardwicke Bay
Silvery grey, rusty brown, and soft gold
Textural and rugged along the edge making way for smooth still pools
Warm in the sun but cool elsewhere
Cinnamon, cloves, citrus, coffee
Weaving is an incredibly diverse form of expression. Right across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participate in different forms of fibre and textile work, for different reasons.
Explore the work of previous Tarnanthi artists Milingimbi Weavers and Yvonne Koolmatrie to gain knowledge of the variation in style, technique and materials. Pay attention to the connection between Country, artist, and outcome, in each instance.
This education resource has been written in collaboration with Sally Lawrey, Tarnanthi Education Officer and Dr. Lisa Slade, Assistant Director, Artistic Programs
Tarnanthi is presented in partnership with BHP and with the support of the Government of South Australia.
AGSA’s education programs are supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education.