Practising Art – a Guide to DAAF 2021 Weaving and ghost net work

Calling all art lovers! If you’re gearing up for DAAF 2021 and feel like you need to brush up on your art knowledge, this series is for you. Consider this your comprehensive art guide to this year’s online Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, so you can hit the ground running with the knowledge of a seasoned collector.

We’re looking at everything from painting to printmaking, weaving to wearable art, spotlighting some of the key regions, Art Centres and artists you can catch at the Fair who are true masters of their craft. Today we’re weaving together the practice of weaving. This is an incredibly expansive category, encompassing myriad traditional weaving techniques passed down for millennia.

It also features an amazingly diverse array of materials sourced on Country, from the palm-like pandanus plants of the north, to the tjanpi (grasses) of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Lands in the central desert, to discarded fishing nets and other marine debris, transformed by communities in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait.

This one’s a truly great yarn – let’s dive in!


Words by Camilla Wagstaff. 


Milingimbi Art and Culture: Susan Balbunga

 In Yolŋu culture of northeast Arnhem Land, Country, family, ceremony, songs and art are all deeply interconnected. Milingimbi Art and Culture artists share these stories in exquisitely woven fibre works, paintings on bark and carvings.

Senior Milingimbi artist and master weaver Susan Balbunga is a respected leader and educator known for her extensive knowledge of Country, plants, as well as Yirritja and Dhuwa ceremony and history. Her art practice is informed by her lived experiences growing up in the bush, and the knowledge she acquired from her Elders.

Gunga mät, Susan Balbunga, pandanus and bush dyes, 2021, 64 cm (diameter not including fringe), Photo courtesy of Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Maningrida Arts & Culture: Samantha Malkudja

Based on Kunibídji country in Arnhem Land, the exceptional art coming out of Maningrida Arts & Culture has its genesis in body design, rock art and cultural ceremony, and is expressed through the art practices of kun-madj (weaving) as well as doloppo bim (bark painting) and sculpture works passed down from generation to generation.

Young Maningrida artist Samantha Malkudja learned to weave from her mother Frewa Bardaluna, a master fibre artist who had numerous exhibitions with leading Australian commercial galleries. Samantha’s work is distinguished by her soft tonal range, strong sense of design and intricate technique, manifesting as panels and sculptures depicting local fish, animal species and sometimes yawkyawks, the female water spirits of the region.

Weave Nawarlah (Brown River Stingray), Samantha Malkudja, Pandanus and natural dyes, 2018, 142cm x 79cm x 2cm, 2020, photo courtesy of Maningrida Arts & Culture

Tjanpi Desert Weavers: Roma Yanyakarri Butler

Tjanpi Desert Weavers (Tjanpi translating to grass) is an award-winning social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. Tjanpi empowers more than 500 Aboriginal women across the Central Desert to create innovative fibre works, earn an income and look after their families on Country. Tjanpi artists are particularly renowned for their woven baskets and sculptures depicting the critters of the NPY Lands and beyond.

One such weaver is Roma Yanyakarri Butler. Hailing from Irrunytju (Wingellina), Roma is a senior artist belonging to the Pitjantjatjara language and cultural group. Her strikingly unique weaving aesthetic has won her wide acclaim, and she has been represented in exhibitions and prizes across Australia.

Papa (Dog), Roma Yanyakarri Butler, Tjanpi (grass), raffia, acrylic wool, 2020, L40cm x W16cm x H30cm, photo courtesy of Tjanpi Desert Weavers

Erub Arts: Lavinia Ketchell

Erub (Darnley Island) is a volcanic island nestled in the north-eastern Torres Strait. Erub artists draw inspiration from the surrounding ocean and a deep connection to their island, becoming internationally recognised for their woven ghost net works.

Ghost net artists like the young talent Lavinia Ketchell take discarded fishing nets that often wash up on island beaches and transform them into incredible sculptures, often depicting the very marine life they threaten. Effectively, these works turn harmful trash into precious treasures that stand as a powerful reminder of the harm modern industrial practices can have on Country.

 Kebi Nam Lavinia Ketchell, ghost net twine and rope, L40 x W 38 x 5 cm, 2020, photo courtesy of Erub Arts

Pormpuraaw Arts & Cultural Centre: Alma Norman, Marlene Norman, Mavis Benjamin

Ghost net works are often collaborative, which affords them incredible detail and ambitious scale. Pormpuraaw – a remote Aboriginal community on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland – is blessed with many talented artists working in ghost net weaving, who often work together on impressive, large-scale works based on traditions, stories and totems.

Alma Norman, Marlene Norman, Mavis Benjamin are three exciting artists working out of Pormpuraaw Arts & Cultural Centre that collaborate on large projects such as this sawfish. Sawfish were once plentiful in Pormpuraaw but are now no longer seen. Making such work is the artist’s way of remembering and honouring this important totem.

Alma Norman, Marlene Norman, Mavis Benjamin, photo by Paul Jakubowski, courtesy of Pormpuraaw Arts and Cultural Centre Inc


More to come from the ‘Practising Art’ series as we delve into the exciting mediums and artistic practises of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists who’ll be part of DAAF online this August 6-11 2021!

Be sure to check out this year’s program, register for your early access, and take a look at the incredible list of over 70 participating Art Centres: 

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