ANNIEKA SKINNER introduces us to the TJANPI DESERT WEAVERS, and to celebrate twenty-five years of success, this social enterprise is creating a large new work for the National Gallery.
For quarter of a century, Tjanpi Desert Weavers has brought together artists from the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) lands, which spans the central and western desert regions of south australia, western australia and the northern territory.
Since 1995, artists from Tjanpi Desert Weavers (tjanpi meaning ‘dry grass’), which has a gallery and base of operations in Alice Springs, have woven native Australian desert grasses into spectacular contemporary fibre art, capturing the energies and rhythms of their Country, culture and community.
Tjanpi is the dynamic social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council and was established after Anangu minyma (Aboriginal women) of the Central and Western desert regions identified their need for a culturally appropriate income stream that would empower them to remain on Country and support their families. Since then, a wide-reaching network of mothers, daughters, grandmothers and aunties across a 350,000 square-kilometre region of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia have drawn upon traditional practices to weave together their shared stories, skills and experiences and financially support themselves by creating innovative baskets and sculptures.
To celebrate Tjanpi’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2020, Tjanpi artists have been commissioned by the National Gallery, with support from Wesfarmers Arts, to create a work based on the Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters) songline. Building upon their rich repertoire of large-scale installations, the commission is being created in a bush camp near the small, remote WA community of Warakurna by a group of twenty Ngaanyatjarra Tjanpi artists. The work will focus on the Kungkarangkalpa songline near the Wanarn community of WA, where the Seven Sisters stopped to rest in caves while being pursued by Wati Nyiru.
‘Nowadays there are many different ways in which we transmit those ancient stories because we really held those stories strong’.
From the beginning, Tjanpi’s art practice has centred on trips out to Country to collect grass for their fibre art, taking the time to sit down together to weave, to hunt, visit significant sites, perform inma (cultural song and dance) and teach their children about their responsibilities to Country. As part of this, artists have experimented with large-scale collaborative fibre-art installations to share their Tjukurrpa (lore), scenes of daily living and precontact life, generating awareness and insight into their culture, Country and communities for their families and the broader Australian community.
In a talk for String Theory at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in 2013, artist Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton explained: ‘Nowadays there are many different ways in which we transmit those ancient stories because we really held those stories strong’. One way is through paintings and another is the ‘sculptural way’, she says. This way is collaborative, social and cultural and draws on the materials from the places ‘where those Dreaming tracks move through the country … These sculptural pieces here are filled up with the story from the land’.
The commission for the National Gallery represents an opportunity for Tjanpi artists to delve deeper and continue their artistic investigation of the Kungkarangkalpa songline while exploring exciting new techniques and methods of realisation.
Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now is on display at the National Gallery 14 Nov 2020 – 9 May 2021.