Báb-barra: Women Printing Culture

4 November to 16 December 2017

Opening talk: Claire Summers, Executive Director, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation

Saturday 11 November, 2 pm

Artists: Raylene Bonson, Lenni Goya-Airra, Jennifer Gandjalamirriwuy, Melba Gunjarrwanga, Linda Gurawana, Belinda Kernan, Belinda Kuriniya, Helen Lanyinwanga, Janet Marawarr, Susan Marawarr, Elizabeth Wullunmingu, Deborah Wurrkidj, Jennifer Wurrkidj & Lucy Yarawanga

Women Printing Culture

Bábbarra Designs, a contemporary art textile centre in the community of Maningrida, is Aboriginal owned and governed, run by women for women. It is one of a small group of Indigenous textile-producing art centres in Australia that design, print and sew product onsite, in community. Each silk-screened length of fabric is a bold and elegant story/text that tells of the lives of the Bábbarra women: referencing the life of the land and its foods and plants, bush crafts, as well as ancestral stories, or djang / wangarr.

The innovative variation in design reflects the area's immense cultural and linguistic diversity: the artists and artworkers are from over 12 language groups and many different clans from surrounding homelands. They come together to share cultures and stories through art, design and textile production. Bábbarra artists have trained in a number of textile mediums but most specialise in handcrafted lino-tile designs or screen printing onto fabric. Each piece is unique with varying tile and colour combinations.

Bábbarra artists are saltwater and freshwater in a region encompassing 7,000 square kilometres. Bábbarra is a word in the Ndjébbana language of the Kunibídji people on whose country the community of Maningrida lies. It is the name of a place belonging to the Dukúrrdji clan. You say ‘Bábbarra’ with the stress on the first syllable: ‘bá’.

Bábbarra is led by the strong voices of Bábbarra Women’s Governance Board. Bábbarra Women’s Centre has a proud history of positive social impact and works to change the narrative about the economic vulnerability of Indigenous women. From the early days, established by women as a refuge in 1983, Bábbarra has supported the lives of Aboriginal women. Bábbarra Designs, the major activity at the Women's Centre, has been in operation since 1989. The centre provides employment and training opportunities by operating sustainable business enterprises. The centre also runs an op-shop and other activities and have refurbished five outstation women's centres.

Importantly the senior artists mentoring less experienced artists. For example sisters Deborah and Jennifer Wurrkidj are senior artists who mentor emerging artists and have graduated from ANKA's Artworker Training program in Darwin (as has Raylene Bonson). Lenni Goya-Airra supervises the Bábbarra production lines in clothing and homeware. Cairns-based artist Bobbi Reuben has conducted workshops in textile production. Other Bábbarra artists have collaborated with eternal artists. In 2000, Susan Marawarr collaborated with Judy Watson, a Waanyi artist and Australia’s representative at the Venice Biennale, on Watson’s public art commission for Sydney International Airport forecourt. In 2001 Susan Marawarr and Judy Watson collaborated on the group exhibition Bush Colour: work on paper by women artists from Maningrida (2001), which toured the United States with Susan promoting the work and supervising bark painting workshops. Marawarr's work also featured in Crossing Country (the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004).

During discussions for Bush Colour, Susan Marawarr stated, “I print with my land on my land.” This is a strong statement about her connection to country and her culture and the links that her art has going back into the land like the trailing roots of land. Along the Oenpelli road, Susan Marawarr said, “this is my country through my father, also my brothers….we got too many country.”

Sources: statement from Bábbarra Designs, September 2017 and Talking Up Textiles: Community Fabric and Indigenous Industry, ANKA, 2013 and Bush Colour: work on paper by women artists from Maningrida (curator Judy Watson, 2001).

About the Artists & Artworks

Senior Artists

Melba Gunjarrwanga, ‘Wak Story’, (detail) silkscreenprint.

Melba Gunjarrwanga
Kuninjku artist, Melba Gunjarrwanga, is a skilled printmaker, sculptor, weaver and bark painter. She is represented in the exhibition Bábbarra: Women Printing Culture by the splendid ‘Wak Story’ silkscreen print. Melba has taken part in group exhibitions across Australia and the world presented by Maningrida Arts and Culture. Her work is held in the national collection and most state art galleries, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Australian National University Collection.

Wak Story
Artwork detail above
Common subjects of her work include the powerful djang of Wak wak, Ngalyod and yawkyawk mythologies alongside the imagery of popular everyday items like dilly bags, fish-traps, mats and baskets.

Belinda Kuriniya

Manyawok (Cheeky Yam) (detail)

Belinda Kuriniya
Belinda Kuriniya has worked with Bábbarra Designs as a printmaker since the mid 1990s. She was born on her outstation, Marrkolidjban, south-west of Manayingkarírra. Belinda’s textiles have been exhibited across Australia and internationally in China and Mexico.

Manyawok (Cheeky Yam)
Artwork detail above
This design depicts the cheeky yam, which is found on the artist’s country, near the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land. Yams are an important bush food that are collected during the wet season. Unlike other yams that can be eaten roasted, if not properly prepared, the cheeky yam can be poisonous. The preparation process of the yam traditionally takes two days. Firstly, the yams are dug up with a digging stick and boiled over a fire. They are then peeled and sliced into thin strips. The pieces of cheeky yam are then placed in a special woven dillybag made by women from pandanus leaves. The yam-laden dillybag is then strung into a river from an overhanging branch, so the bag just touches the running fresh water. The cheeky yams are left overnight so that running water removes their toxins. The next morning, people return and collect the dillybag, and leave the yam pieces in full sunlight to dry out. Finally, when the yam pieces have dried in the sun for a day, they are ready to eat.

Helen Lanyinwanga

Ngarduk Kured (My Country) (detail)

Helen Lanyinwanga
Helen Lanyinwanga is a senior textile artist who has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2008. She often depicts her strong stone country and sacred rock themes in her designs. Helen has a key role mentoring young and emerging artists, and she is mother to leading Bábbarra artists including Jennifer Wurrkidj and Deborah Wurrkidj, and grandmother to Ruth Bindiedbal.

Helen is also an accomplished artist in other mediums, notably basket weavings and prints on paper, for which she is represented by Maningrida Arts & Culture. Her artwork has toured the United States and been exhibited throughout Australia, and her textile art is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Ngarduk Kured (My Country)
Artwork detail above
“This river we call Mangabo. It is near Gudjarrngarrl homeland of my daughters, Deborah and Jennifer Wurrkidj. We cross that river when travelling to Munmoy outstation. In the wet season, that water comes up and covers over those rocks, and when you look down there are rocks all under the water.” – Helen Lanyinwanga

Susan Marawarr

Mandjabu (Fish Trap) (detail)

Susan Marawarr
Susan Marawarr is a leading textile artist who has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2001. She has strong artistic family connections, being the daughter of Anchor Kulunba and Mary Marabamba, and the sister of acclaimed bark painters James Iyuna and John Mawurndjul. Marawarr is an accomplished printmaker, sculptor, weaver and bark painter. She collaborated with Waanyi artist Judy Watson for Watson’s public art commission of bronze fish fences and dillybags installed at Sydney International Airport, and toured the USA with Bush Colour, promoting the work of female printmakers.

Mandjabu (Fish Trap)
Artwork detail above
Kuninjku people traditionally make two sorts of conical fish traps. One called mandjabu made from a vine called milil, and another smaller one called manylik mandjabu, made from the grass manylik. The mandjabu conical fish trap is bigger and stronger and used in tidal reaches of creeks to catch large fish. The smaller, lighter manylik trap is used in freshwater flowing creeks to catch smaller fish and freshwater prawns. Traditionally, only men were involved in the construction of the large fish traps, but children would often crawl inside and assist.

To make fish traps and fish net fences artists firstly get vine (milil) from the jungle and they put it in water for one night to make it soft. Next they start weaving it; they make rings for the inside to keep the fish trap’s shape. Artists work for three or four weeks on the fish trap. They also make string from kurrajong (burdaga) to attach the hibiscus (bardainy) rings and to tie the conical end of the fish trap. This fish trap is used in saltwater and freshwater. People also use fish net fences called mun-dirra. A long time ago they would put the mun-dirra across rivers and creeks. In the middle they would place the an-gujechiya. They also used small things like sticks, rocks, mud and grass to block the fish from going through. People would then catch fish like saltwater barramundi rajarra, freshwater barramundi (janambal), small black freshwater catfish (buliya), bonefish (an-guwirrpiya), and sand bass (dalakan) in these fish traps.

Deborah Wurrkidj

Manwak (Mumeka Blooms) (detail)

Deborah Wurrkidj
Deborah Wurrkidj is a highly regarded, versatile artist who has readily adapted to new art forms while retaining her strong clan traditions. She has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 1991, alongside her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Jennifer Wurrkidj. She is a leading textile artist and an integral member of Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Deborah’s work is vibrant, tactile and intricate, evocative of the local natural environment as well as referencing her deep cultural knowledge. Her extensive body of textile art is illustrative of the artistic innovation that has occurred in Maningrida in recent times and that is apparent in her work in other mediums also. Deborah is also renowned for her bark painting, lorrkkon (hollow logs), and fibre baskets. She has exhibited widely since 2001, throughout Australia as well as in Europe and the United States. She is represented in most of Australia’s state gallery collections. She is a graduate of the ANKA Arts Worker Training Program.

Manwak (Mumeka Blooms)
Artwork detail above
Manwak grows near Mumeka creek, on the artist’s homeland. This beautiful large flower blooms during the mandjelk (wet season). It has deep green petals with a central red kernel which swells to the size of a berry. It is known for its long, sweeping petals which seem to dance in the winds. By dry season, the inside kernel resembles a strawberry in appearance and flavour, but is also very spicy so it burns our mouth. Kids and adults pick these berries enthusiastically when walking or going hunting on my country. The inside of the flowers are eaten fresh, a favourite manme (bush food) of our people.
“When I was painting this Manwak story, I was painting in Maningrida. In my head I was dreaming of being on my homeland, eating ripe Manwak berries” - Deborah Wurrkidj

Jennifer Wurrkidj

Kunronj (Freshwater Story) (detail)

Jennifer Wurrkidj
Jennifer Wurrkidj is a highly regarded textile artist who has been working at Bábbarra Designs since 2007. Her print designs often feature bush foods and food-collecting and reference the activities of ancestor beings and the ceremonial sites of her homeland, Mumeka. Jennifer works at Bábbarra Women’s Centre alongside other members of her family who are also accomplished artists: her mother, Helen Lanyinwanga, and sister Deborah Wurrkidj. She is a daughter of highly acclaimed bark painter, John Mawurndjul, and is renowned, in her own right, for her bark paintings, hollow logs and carved sculptures. Jennifer’s artwork has been exhibited throughout Australia and her textile art is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. She is a graduate of the ANKA Arts Worker Training Program.

Kunronj (Freshwater Story)
Artwork detail above
This image depicts important man-me (food) from freshwater environments on Jennifer’s country and the implements used to gather these items. The kun-karninj or digging stick is used to dig for wayuk (waterlily) roots called burdbarrk, which are eaten fresh from the water or cooked on an open fire. The kun-karninj is also used to find and dig freshwater kormdaw (turtles) that hibernate on the floodplains during the dry season. Various fish species including the bilmu (barramundi), as shown here, are hunted with a spear or trapped inside a woven fish trap. This man-me is carried within kun-madj (dillybags), which are woven with fibres from the pandanus tree, kun-dayarr.

Emerging / New Artists

Raylene Bonson

Raylene Bonson, ‘Makassan Boats’ (detail), 2-colour silkscreen on cotton.

Raylene Bonson
Raylene Bonson was mentored by her late mother, Nancy Gununwanga, a senior textile artist and a founding member of Bábbarra Women’s Centre in 1989. She is represented in ‘Women Printing Culture’ by a splendid silkscreen work depicting Macassan praus in full sail and linocuts of mandjabu (conical fishtrap), lorrkkon (hollow log for burial ceremony) and kunmadj (dillybag). Raylene began working at Babbarra in 2012 and took part in the ANKA Arts Worker Extension Program in 2015. A year later, she won an award at the Northern Territory Textile Awards shared with colleagues Deborah Wurrkidj and Helen Lanyinwaga. Speaking about the conical fishtrap design, she says "I was small and I sat down with them and I watched how they made it, the way the old people used to make them.... There at Bulkay we caught fish. We then put them into string bags, but we couldn't put the trap into the large creeks because of crocodiles.”  Raylene Bonson was born in 1974 at Maningrida and her first language is Kuninjku.

Lennie Goya-Airra

Lennie Goya-Airra and Deborah Wurrkidj and printing Lenni Goya-Airra’s work ‘Mankotbe’, at Barbara Designs workshop, September 2017.

Lennie Goya-Airra
Lennie Goya-Airra is an integral member of the Babbarra textile clothing team. Kune artist, Lennie Goya-Airra, was born in 1954. The development of Bábbarra’s clothing and homewares product lines, owes significantly to her work, having been taught to sew by her grandmother. Lennie is from the Buluhkaduru homeland, one-hour south-west of Maningrida, where she managed the Buluhkaduru outstation Women’s Centre for many years and supervised women sewing and printing. In a video, Lennie spoke of her art making process. She says, “I started working at Buluhkaduru, my homeland. At Bábbarra Women’s Centre I’m always making bags, cushion covers, table cloths and skirts too. I get the material and the pattern, I put the paper down and pin it up and cut it out with scissors and make the skirt. I make lots of tops for ladies when they model the skirts and tops. We had one here and we had one at Adelaide and one in Darwin.” Video, 2017: Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics in association with Bábbarra Women’s Centre and The Batchelor Institute.

Jennifer Gandjalamirriwuy

Jennifer creates bold linocut designs at Bábbarra Women’s Centre, depicting stories of her country and ceremonial objects. They are printed by hand using a variety of colours and layers. The linocut technique ensures each textile piece is a one-off, limited edition piece.

Jennifer learned to be a skilful sewer and jewellery maker in Milingimbi, a renowned weaving centre and is also a talented basket weaver with a strong knowledge of botanical plants and natural dyes for weaving. She left her island home to live in Manayingkarrírra (Maningrida) with her partner. Family from Milingimbi work alongside her at Bábbarra Women’s Centre.

Linda Gurawana

Linda Gurawana, ‘Dilly Bags’, (blue/white on off-white)

Linda Gurawana
Linda Gurawana has been working at Bábbarra Women’s Centre since 2002.

Her favoured print medium is silkscreen, and she often depicts objects that are both sacred and utilitarian, such as dillybags. her print Kun-maji (2012) quickly become a classic and was acquired by Sydney’s MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) in 2017. Linda also works for the Bábbarra Cleaning Crew and the sewing and design team.

Kun-madj (Dillybags)
Kun-madj is the Kuninjku term for large woven collecting baskets, known as dillybags. They are often made from the burney vine (Malaisia scandens), a strong, pliable plant that grows along the ground and into the canopy of monsoon vine thickets. The baskets are used to collect a variety of heavy foods, such as fish caught in conical fish traps or a good harvest of yams. As well as being of practical use, dillybags are of cultural significance to Arnhem Land people. Dillybags are totemic objects and they are associated with particular sites in the landscape. https://babbarra.com/design/kun-madj-dilly-bags-2/204/

Belinda Kernan
Belinda is an emerging young artist from Maningrida region with strong skills in hand carving lino designs, a medium through which she often depicts significant natural plants from her mother’s country (the central desert) and a good eye for colour layering. Belinda’s mother is from Eastern Aranda country near Alice Springs, the community of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), and her father’s country is Maningrida. Belinda speaks languages from both sides of her family, as well as various languages belonging to Central Arnhem Land.

Lucy Yarawanga
Lucy is an emerging textile artist as well as an office worker at Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Lucy often references her ancestral stories in her textile work, including Buwaluba (woman spirit). Lucy is from the Gurr-goni language group – one of the least commonly spoken languages in Arnhem Land: her mum’s language is Kunibídji and her father talks Gurr-goni. She says, "Raylene (Raylene Bonson) taught me how to do it in a good way. She was telling me all this and that and I saw what she was doing, and I started doing it in a good way." (Video interview 2017.)

BÁB-BARRA artists model fabric and designs for Darwin Art Fair, July 2017.

Installation The Cross Art Projects 2017, from left to right: Belinda Kernan ‘Pandanus Mat’, Deborah Wurrkidj ‘Manwak (Mumeka Bloom)’ (Black) and

Deborah Wurrkidj ‘Manwak (Mumeka Bloom)’ (Turquoise), Melba Gunjarrwanga ‘Wak Story’

Installation view: Melba Gunjarrwanga, Wak Story and Belinda Kuriniya, Manyawok (Cheeky Yam) (detail)

Exhibition title sign detail with Jennifer Wurrkidj ‘Kurulk Kare’ (Three colour) in background.

The Cross Art Projects, Installation with linocuts: (column 1) Deborah Wurrkidj ‘Fish Saratoga’; Raylene Bonson ‘Pandanus Mats’; Lenni Goya-Airra ‘Mankotbe on denim’; Lucy Yarawanga ‘Bawáliba’ and (column 2) Janet Marawarr ‘Gecko’; Jennifer Wurrkidj ‘Billabong Weeds’; Belinda Kernan ‘Bush Flower’; Jennifer Gandjalamirriwuy ‘Dugong’. On right: Linda Gurawana ‘Dilly Bags’, 2 metre silkscreen on linen

The Cross Art Projects, Installation with linocuts: Janet Marawarr ‘Foottracks under stars’ and Jennifer Wurrkidj ‘Ngalyod (Rainbow Snake)’ and Wrightbilt Australian TV Chairs, 1962. Covered in Belinda Kernan ‘Pandanus Mat’. Private Collection

Babbarra: Women Printing Culture, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘10 Things to Do in Sydney’, 15 Dec 2017

Babbarra: Women Printing Culture, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘10 Things to Do in Sydney’, 15 Dec 2017

Anne-Marie Van De Ven, curator Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and Jo Holder director The Cross Art Projects, with Linda Gurawana’s Kun-madj (Dillybags), silkscreen.

Maningrida language map

Design Notes

Bábbarra Designs is one of the oldest continuously operating Indigenous textile enterprises in Australia. Beginning in the early 1990s, Bábbarra textile design and production has flourished alongside the rise to international fame of the artists of Maningrida Arts & Culture.

The exhibition showcases new and unique linocut prints and silkscreens on textiles. The silkscreens are designed to have a strong ongoing presence. The artists are celebrated for their skill as printmakers, their bold compositions and joyful use of colour.

The silkscreen designs were developed in association with Bobbie Ruben, a practicing printmaker, lecturer and textile designer. Bobbie has worked with Babbarra Women’s Centre since 2003 conducting design and screen printing workshops to assist artists and to streamline printing operations. She has a strong interest in the development of several remote textile art studios across northern Australia.

The design process begins by the artist reviewing their imagery for ideas to translate to textile media. The artist then makes sketches which are redrawn onto a large sheet of paper corresponding with screen size (a design area of around 1500mm x 800mm). Once the drawing is finalized the artist paints up this design onto separated film layers depending on how many colours will be printed. The design process demands problem solving, adjustments and exploring of colour options before the artwork is exposed onto screens for printing. The mark of the artist’s hand and the directness of the screen printing technique are retained at all stages.

Babbarra Women’s Centre has good partnership agreements with Raw Cloth, a cult fashion business in Darwin, and Publisher Textiles, a screen printing enterprise in inner-city Sydney who make and market original fashion from Babbarra textiles. Publisher Textiles has agreements with Babbarra Designs and Merrepen Arts in the NT, and more recently Hopevale Arts and Culture in Cape York Peninsula, and Nagula Jarndu in Broome. These agreements enable small, secure sources of income for the artists and art centres.


Artist biographies: https://babbarra.com/artists/

eInvite > Download as pdf

Suggested Reading

ANKA, Darwin: Talking Up Textiles: Community Fabric and Indigenous Industry. Stories from the Forum in Gunbalanya, August 2012. 

ANKA, Darwin: Arts Backbone, Vol 14: Issue 1, August 2014 (cover and story.)

Bush Colour: work on paper by women artists from Maningrida, exhibition catalogue, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Maningrida, 2000.

Crossing Country: The alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art, exhibition catalogue, AGNSW, Sydney, NSW 2004

Taylor, Luke. “Themes and paintings in ceremonies.” In Seeing the Inside by Luke Taylor, 102-127. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1996.

Thank you

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation and Claire Summers and Ingrid Johansen, former and current managers of Babbarra Women’s Centre.