• Woven skirt from Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) by Rosemary Gamajun Mamunin. (© Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny/Copyright Agency, 2018.)Source: © Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny/Copyright Agency, 2018.
A new exhibition is exploring and celebrating the unbroken tradition of weaving.
Emily Nicol

6 Jul 2018 - 5:22 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2018 - 5:27 PM

This years' National NAIDOC theme, Because of Her, We Can, brings the focus directly on the influence and contributions of Indigenous women. 

The Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) in Sydney has brought together a special selection of works from some of the country's most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists to participate in the week's celebrations.  

ANMM's Indigenous curator, Helen Anu said that through the upcoming exhibition, Unbroken Lines of Resilience: feathers, fibre, shells, she wanted to highlight the resilience and ongoing contributions of women in our communities in the arts and particularly, the practice of weaving.

"For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had complex relationships with the land, sky and waterways that are paramount to their identity, livelihoods and sustainability," Anu explains. "Maintaining these relationships relies on a deep understanding and connection with the local environment and its intricate calendars of wet and dry seasons, bird nesting and migration patterns, plants, rivers and sea life."

Weaving is a practice that has been handed down through families and communities, and is a tradition that continues to present day.

"Freshwater and saltwater communities have transferred their intimate knowledge from generation to generation. These knowledge systems continue to be practised today by the resilient Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who are some of their communities’ senior knowledge holders and most acclaimed artists leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing," Anu says. 

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When curating and choosing the pieces out of the Museum's 4,000 piece collection, Anu, along with the Head of Indigenous programs Beau James, made sure that they consulted with community, looking at the important stories that reflected the regions and its people authentically.

"We always come at our exhibitions at a different angle," James explains. "We are interested —not just in research— but really enriching the stories that are there and going back to communities to get their stories and voice, to make sure there is authenticity." James says.

Equally important for the curators was to show that the tradition and art-form is something of a by-gone era.

"People often think about Indigenous culture and think about it in a past sense, and we want to show that it is a continuing, living, breathing culture," James says. "These women and their knowledge is passed on over time but also exacted over time. It’s ever-evolving and ever-growing and the women notice that they are able to engage younger generations with these old techniques, however in different ways and methods."

"These women and their knowledge is passed on over time but also exacted over time. It’s ever-evolving and ever-growing and the women notice that they are able to engage younger generations with these old techniques, however in different ways and methods."

Older pieces such as traditional fish traps, woven bags and shell necklaces from Tasmania, will be coupled with newer pieces from Elcho Island, including a woven bodice, a beautiful dress made from a ghost net from the Torres Strait, and woven skirt [pictured] by Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny shown in the very first Indigenous Australia Fashion Week in 2014. The exhibition also features domestic fishing implements made from organic materials. 

"This exhibition also comments on environmental issues. The women who are using the ghost nets, which are causing a lot of environmental problems, are turning them in to art to demonstrate the destructive impact on their environment. They are creating beautiful objects but still talking about sustainability and looking after their oceans as well."

Also on display are the works of several highly influential artists from around the country. Including Rosemary Gamajun Mamuniny; Maryann Sebasio from Erub Island in the Torres Strait, who incorporates materials from the environment that she has collected such as seeds and shells; and Lena Yarinkura,an acclaimed senior artist from Maningrida, NT and a key figure in the development of fibre art.

Yarinkura became a skilled weaver of customary bags and baskets under the guidance of her talented mother, Lena Djamarrayku. Shey says that the work she does is important to her to pass on, just as her mother did with her. “I create new ways all the time. They are only my ideas ... I pass my ideas onto my children and my grandchildren. It is important that I teach them, because one day I will be gone and they will take my place.”


Unbroken Lines of Resilience: feathers, fibre, shells opens 8 July 2018 at the Australian National Maritime Museum.