Weaving describes an action, and it also connotes a tradition imbued with cultural heritage. Distinctively and regionally diverse, the Indigenous fibre art of Australia is nonetheless expressive of a community of practice, unified by the amazing ability of practitioners to transform raw materials into creative expressions of story and place.
Connected to women’s traditional knowledge of plant materials and harvesting, fibre art is inextricably linked with the seasonal availability of resources and the transformation of raw materials into dyes, yarn and threads.
The works, and their creators, perform a most special mixture of artistry and alchemy.
Accordingly, The Alchemists showcases the recent work of artists and art centres from Anindilyakwa, Bula’ bula, Elcho Island, Merrepen and Maningrida in the Northern Territory, Milingimbi and Gapuwiyak in East Arnhem Land, Pormpuraaw Art Centre in Cape York, Baluk Arts in the Mornington Peninsula, and closer to home, Martumili Artists in the Pilbara. The exhibition also features the work of Tasmanian artist Vicki West, Cairns-based artist Grace Lillian Lee and Janine McCaulley Bott of Western Australia.
The exhibition offers a survey of weaving as an artistic practice which, while remaining connected to its traditional reliance on found or natural materials, is also continually evolving. With The Alchemists, we have a fascinating opportunity to appreciate how contemporary fibre art is shaped by economic and ecological influences, by change and the adoption of new methods and new materials, which are engaged in specialised and localised ways.
Indigenous fibre art in the Northern Territory, for example, is widely known for its vibrant colours and extraordinary skill. What is less known are the developments and exchanges between fibre artists in the Top End and external influences which have seen changes and developments, some subtle, some major, in fibre art practice throughout Australia. This exhibition aims to strengthen our awareness of contemporary fibre art as a presentation of creativity and skill, revealing beauty, individuality, and refinement, embodying the knowledge of ecological processes and of Country. It is also a timely reminder of how knowledge, developed over generations of interactions between Indigenous people and the land, can make valuable contributions to contemporary sciences such as conservation and restoration; the study of ecological processes; and sustainable resource use.
Seeing Aboriginal culture flourish throughout Australia is something all Australians should celebrate and the State Government has demonstrated its commitment to preserving Aboriginal culture right here in Western Australia and the ability of Indigenous peoples to celebrate and share it; to recognising Native Title Rights; to making histories visible; and to supporting contemporary Aboriginal arts, including fibre arts.
Embodying the interconnected nature of Aboriginal culture, fibre art is a powerful medium for education, cross cultural exchange and learning, as well as exploration of imagination, inventiveness and beauty.
For it is through the richness of Australian weaving, skill, innovation, varied approaches and diversity of cultural
heritage we gain an insight into language of Country, and the practices that inform and sustain it.
It is through the resourcefulness and imagination of these artists―these alchemists―we become alive to the extraordinary gifts of our home.
Photograph by Rosita Holmes. Detail: Bula’bula weavings in pandanus with natural dyes. Evonne
Munuyngu and Mary Dhapalany. Photograph by Taryn Hays, 2019.
The exhibition runs until the 16th of December 2019