The Australian National Maritime Museum were asked to participate in TABA NABA – Australia, Oceania, Arts by Peoples of the Sea exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. Living Waters was a key theme of the exhibition developed by curator Erica Izett and featured items from our own Indigenous collection. Donna Carstens, Manager of Indigenous Programs at the Maritime Museum worked closely with Erica to select collection items that support the exhibition themes.
For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have navigated their way across the lands and seas of Australia using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. A songline is based around the creator beings and their formation of the lands and waters during the Dreaming (creation of earth). It explains the landmarks, rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees, sky and seas.
Object of the Week: Kunmatjs
Kunmatjs are dilly bags from the Northern Territory used for carrying small fish such as catfish. They are a common item across many Indigenous groups in the Northern Territory and known by a number of different names depending on their region of origin. This bag is painted with red ochre and decorated with painted images of catfish in white clay. Traditionally dilly bags were left unadorned but artist Lena Yarinkura has decorated this kunmatji to express her local Aboriginal culture. Lena Yarinkura is an artist from south central Arnhem Land who works with fibres, barks, bronze and aluminium. Her works cover ceremonial regalia, baskets, bark paintings and sculptures. She has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally since 1987.
Dilly bags are traditional bags used for gathering food and could be hung around the neck in order to leave the hands free. They are typically woven out of natural fibres including grasses, animal tendons and reeds. Depending on the region of their origin, these bags have a variety of names and are produced from different materials. They are typically left undecorated without paint when used for their traditional purpose of gathering food. Today they also serve an artistic purpose and are often painted with images such as catfish.
Pandanus is a common material used in Arnhem Land for making baskets, bags and traps. The plant grows in Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia in damp environments near creeks and waterways. The top leaves of the plant are collected, stripped and dried in preparation to be woven into traditional objects such as baskets, mats, fishing nets and sculptures.
This kunmatj is representative of Indigenous weaving techniques and functional carrying equipment used in the Northern Territory. It is a common utilitarian object used by men and women when hunting and gathering food. Today these functional items are also produced for artistic purposes.
Tomorrow, our new exhibition Fish in Australian art opens to the public and runs until 1 October. As a keen lover of visual arts, I’m particulary excited about this exhibition. I can’t wait to spend some time exploring the show! The exhibition features over 100 works of art and design, including pieces by celebrated artists such as William Buelow Gould, Conrad Martens, Rupert Bunny, Margaret Olley, William Dobell, Arthur Boyd, Yvonne Koolmatrie, John Olsen, John Brack, Michael Leunig, Craig Walsh and many more.
Over the past week I dropped by the exhibition space to see how the installtion was going. Here are a few snaps, with more available for viewing on Flickr.
Above: Trevally dance machine, 1993, Ken Thaiday Sr, born c 1950.
Above: Neon Fish, 2010, Deborah Halpern. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.