Ancestors are the subject matter of Lena Yarinkura’s two woven Yawkyawk Spirits. She is renowned for these ambitious and highly distinctive pandanus, paperbark, feathers, and natural pigments fibre sculptures. ‘Yawkyawk’ is a word meaning ‘young woman’ and ‘young woman spirit being’. Yarinkura diverged from the more conventional fibre work of her contemporaries to become one of the first Arnhem Land women to work with fibre in a sculptural way.
These Yawkyawk female water spirits from west Central Arnhem Land are made with pandanus in much the same process as a dilly bag or fish trap might be made: beginning by creating a closed end, much like the base of a dilly bag. From there, the artist works up and out to gently expand the woven structure to fashion a bulbous torso before narrowing the weave at the torso’s base or hips to create a flat two layered section representing the tail fins.
The ochre pigment applied to the textured weave of the pandanus fibre, suggest the scales of the water spirits and the shimmering quality to their skin.