DAAFF Yarns… with Erub Arts
Up in the North Eastern Torres Strait, surrounded by reefs and traditional stone fish traps, lies the island Erub (Darnley Island). Erub is home to a remote community of around 400 Erubam Le (that’s people in local Miriam Mer language). That might seem pretty small on first pass, but with the establishment of the internationally renowned Art Centre Erub Arts, this community certainly punches above its weight when it comes to preserving, promoting and continuing First Nations culture.
Words by Camilla Wagstaff
Putting Erub on the map.
An intergenerational meeting place.
A community of lifelong learnings.
With women at the centre.
As Erub artist Nancy Naawi puts it: “The Art Centre is a place where I learn new things. The community is proud of us as we have helped put Erub on the map. Other people now know where Erub island is, and that we are proud Torres Strait people.”
Erub Arts exhibition & arts development manager Lynnette notes that like any Art Centre, Erub plays many important roles, from skills development and promotion of the artwork to the continuation of culture. “It’s a meeting place, a community,” she says, with fellow manager Diann adding that “it also offers an opportunity to work across a whole range of levels – not just within community but at a collaborative level, a political level, an economic level. It helps broaden horizons for a very isolated community.”
Situated within the island school grounds, Erub Arts holds a unique and important position on the island. “The purpose of forming the Art Centre was to provide a model of lifelong learning, to have learning situations where children and adults could work and learn together in an intergenerational space,” says Diann. Erub Arts initially grew out of a craft group established within the school by a group of local ladies. As such, Erub has had a female grounding, though there are male artists working out of the Art Centre these days, too. “The women in the art centre hold an incredibly important role and stand as the backbone of the centre,” says Lynnette. “Having that initial focus on women was, and still is, really important to us.”
Ghost Nets, a connection to the life of the ocean and island.
Erub artists have established an international reputation for their Ghost Net art works; creatures and forms created from abandoned fishing nets, as well as nets that have been donated by the fishing industry. “We get nets from a whole pile of places – the Indigenous rangers, the navy, fish markets, and organisations like Tangaroa Blue,” says Lynnette. “Working in fishing gear is really important to us – it reflects the life of the ocean, the life of island people who are surrounded by and dependent on the ocean.”
Image | Fringing Reef on the approach to Erub, Photo Credit Lynnette Griffiths.
Image | DAAF 2018 Ghost Net Weaving Workshop, Erub Arts, Photo by Dylan Buckee
Things can change overnight.
2020’s curve balls and silver linings.
As for most Art Centres across the country, 2020 held its curve balls and for Erub. “We learnt that things can change overnight,” says Diann. Lynnette went on to say “Obviously, we’re on an island with a small storage facility in Cairns that I operate. In the first week of covid shutdown in March, every major gallery in Australia shipped our work back. For weeks I had truckloads of works appearing, until it was floor to ceiling boxes that I couldn’t get through until September.”
Finding new storage methods to work through this logistical nightmare became top priority. “It was a major issue, and it slowed us down in getting our digital presence together. How can you have an online shop when everything is sitting in a box and not consigned to your database?! The level of organisation is one learning we’re really taking away.”
But 2020 held its silver linings, too, giving the Art Centre the time and opportunity to look at what was really important. “I could personally put a lot more time towards submissions and proposals” says Lynnette. “That time to think was so valuable.”
Connecting through lockdown.
At Home Together.
Another win that came out of lockdown was Erub’s At Home Together Kits. Seeing other Art Centres jumping on make-your-own-art-at-home kits to send to people all over the country, team Erub looked at putting their own spin on the idea. “Because we’re all about collaboration, we thought about how we could further adapt our education programs, working together with a whole pile of people at home to make a major work,” says Lynnette.
Lynnette put together instructions for different sea creatures that people could make at home and send back to the Art Centre. Diann worked with the artists to compile the kits and then the team launched the initiative on social media. “We launched at 10am on Wednesday, by 12pm they were inundated with more than 400 enquiries!” says Lynnette. “It went off! We had no idea what we were getting into! It was a steep learning curve, but we got the initial 200 kits out, and we still have a huge waiting list.”
With around half the made creatures making it back to Erub, the artists created a collaborative tablecloth featuring the works. “During that time people really wanted to connect,” says Diann. “That was a massive part of the learning, that people were looking to reach out. It was an economical way to participate, to come together in a tough time.”
Images | The collaborative result of the ‘At home together kits’, photos courtesy of Erub Arts.
With a number of exciting commissions in the pipeline for 2021, Lynnette and Diann also look forward to participating once more in physical art events like the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), though they note a hesitation to travel in their artists in the current moment.
In Erub artist Florence Gutchen’s words, “by travelling to Darwin and DAAF, we have the opportunity to see other galleries. It is inspiring to see all the other works”. Lavinia Ketchell agrees, noting it’s motivating to see “all the different types of artworks and handmade products from communities”.
“Our artists do really look forward to being part of DAAF,” says Diann. “Although Darwin is a long way away for us, it’s also very familiar. There’s a lot of artists who have connections there, who have family there. We hope to be back again soon.”
MORE TO COME
Thank you to Erub Arts, for sharing their story as part of the ‘DAAFF Yarns’ series.
You can see more here: www.erubarts.com.au
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