Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen
Two hundred and twenty five kilometres southwest of Darwin, artists from Merrepen Arts are at the forefront of a resurging Indigenous textile movement. What began in the late 1970s has re-emerged over the past five years as an exciting contemporary art form that is rapidly drawing national and international attention.
The designs have always been there. Long before the community and the art centre was established, as an inherited, encyclopaedic visual language that communicated the intimate knowledge and connection the Ngen’gi wumirri and Ngan’gi kurrungurr people have with their natural environment.
Nauiyu, the home of Merrepen Arts, is an Aboriginal community located on the Daly River, surrounded by hills, spectacular wetlands and billabongs. There is an abundant supply of bush-tucker including barramundi, which sees keen fishermen flock to the region during dry season. The art centre in Nauiyu was originally established as a Women’s Centre in 1986 with Merrepen Arts, Language and Culture Aboriginal Corporation founded in 1992. The name Merrepen (Livistonia Palm) was chosen in recognition of the founding women and the natural material they would use to weave fish traps, mats, dillybags and baskets; a practice that continues today. Since the inception of the art centre artists have worked across a range of mediums including acrylic paint on canvas, etching and printmaking, cast glass, silk batik and of course, the hand screen printed textiles for which they have since become renowned.
|Ann Carmel Mulvien, Lotus Leaf, 2012. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.|
|Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart, Billabong, 2012. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.||Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart, Seed Pods, 2012. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.|
|Kieren Karritpul, Yerrgi, 2014. Screenprint on linen, 145 (w) x 200.||Kieren Karritpul, Fish Net, 2013. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.|
|Aaron McTaggart, Crocodile Eye, 2013. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.||Aaron McTaggart, Crocodile Skin, 2012. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.|
|Marita Sambono, Fog Dreaming, 2013. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.||Gracie Kumbi, Merrepen, 2014. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.||
Gracie Kumbi, Yam, 2014. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.
|Christina Yambeing, Mud, 2012. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.||Christina Yambeing, Billabong, 2013. Screenprint on linen, 145 x 200.|
|Printing at Merrepen Arts, 2015.||Kieren Karritpul and Dylan Minggun printing Marita Sambono, Fog Dreaming at Merrepen Arts, 2015.|
Merrepen Arts has a long history of printmaking practice with artists having collaborated in workshops with printmaker Basil Hall for over two decades. The first print workshop was held at the art centre in the late 1980s. Textile screen printing soon followed with artists such as Molly Yawalminy, Mercia Wawol, Patricia Marrfurra, Gracie Kumbi, Christina Yambeing, Ann Carmel Mulvien, Henry Sambono, Margaret Gilbert and the late Mary Kangi translating their designs to layers on acetates. In 2011, an invitation to textile designer Bobbie Ruben saw her host a series of workshops at Merrepen Arts over two years. The partnership provided an opportunity for the artists to refine their techniques and produce a series of highly contemporary, sophisticated designs which immediately commanded attention and shifted audience perceptions of Indigenous Australian textiles.
Rhythmic lines drawn by the artists evoke the swelling waterways, the mist from the hot springs, the bundles of merrepen and yerrgi (pandanus) ready for weaving, the skin and the eye of a crocodile submerged in the mighty Daly River, the subtle shifts that to a trained eye signify the changing seasons.
Artists Gracie Kumbi, in her intricate Yam 2015, and Ann Carmel Mulvien, in Lotus Leaf 2013, offer striking celebrations of traditional plant-based foods which continue to be collected and coveted today. For Marita Sambono it is the power and beauty of elemental occurrences that are a constant source of inspiration, such as in her acclaimed textile Fog Dreaming 2013. Yambeing’s Billabong 2013, a complex five-screen textile design, evokes images of women wading through the water, collecting lotus pods and stems to be eaten. In her Mud 2011 textile and Mud 2012 painting on canvas, Yambeing recalls the texture of drying mud after the 2011 Daly River flood- an event that saw the community accessible only by boat for almost two months.
|Christina Yambeing, Weaving, 2011. Etching, 14.5 x 24.5. Edition of 30.||Gracie Kumbi, Lilies, 2011. Etching 14.5 x 25.|
|Aaron McTaggart, Crocodile Skin, 2011. Etching, 33 x 24.5. Edition of 30.||Kieren Karritpul, Coolamon. Etching on zinc plate, 24.5 x 19.5 cm. Edition 30.
||Kieren Karritpul, Coolamon. Etching on zinc plate. Edition 30.|
|Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart, Billabong. Etching||Aaron McTaggart, Crocodile Skin, 2011. 14.5 x 24.5. Edition of 30.|
The designs not only represent skilled ecological observations; they are documents of personal histories. In Patricia Marrfurra’s Seed Pods 2012 the artist recalls a childhood memory: “I remember as a young girl we would play with these seed pods. We would put them over heels and walk up and down the steps of the church, to make the same sound as the ladies shoes when they walked in” she recalls, laughing.
Aaron McTaggart’s Crocodile Skin2012 and Crocodile Eye 2012 textile designs relate directly to his Child Spirit story. An incident with a crocodile was the signifier to his mother, Patricia Marrfurra, that she was pregnant. When Aaron was born he bore a mark on his head in the same place that crocodile was shot. For his brother, Kieren Karritpul, interpretations of woven forms and plant materials are homage to his mothers, grandmothers and aunties, the strong women who have surrounded him throughout his life imparting to him their traditional knowledge. Karritpul won the inaugural Youth Award at the prestigious 31st Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards for his textile work Yerrgi 2014; a depiction of bundles of prepared and dyed pandanus ready for weaving. He continues to interpret elements of weaving in his bold paintings on canvas, with fine, colourful lines that depict yerrgi traditional woven fishnets.
Artists from Merrepen Arts have become renowned for their sophisticated and highly contemporary sense of design, which is applied to a range of artistic mediums. However it is the stories behind the surface, stories that speak of an intimate understanding of the natural environment as well as personal histories, which will remain their enduring legacy.
Essay by Marie Falcinella.
|Christina Yambeing, Crocodiles, 2013. Acrylic on linen, 54.5 x 135.|
|Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart, Billabong, 2012. Acrylic on linen, 155 x 50 cm.||Kieren Karitpul, Coolamon, 2015 (#9684). Acrylic on linen, 90 x 60 cm.||Christina Yambeing, Mud after the Flood, 2012 (#9461). Acrylic on linen, 110 x 33 cm.|
|Kieren Karritpul, Fepi beyiful tye kanggi pagu (Asteroid), 2015. Acrylic on linen, 110 x 60 cm.||Kieren Karritpul, Fish net, 2015. Acrylic on linen, 150 x 70 cm.|
|Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view with Gracie Kumbi, Merrepen, screenprint on cottonFollowing Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view, 145 (w) x 200. Photo Silversalt Photography.||Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view 2015. Marita Sambono, Fog Dreaming. Photo Silversalt Photography.
|IFollowing Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view 2015 with chairs upholstered in Kieren Karitpul, 'Yerrgi', screenprint on cotton drill. Photo Silversalt Photography.||Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view. From left to right: Ann Carmel Mulvien, Lotus Leaf and Christina Yambeing, Lotus Leaf, 2015 both screenprint on linen, 145 (w) x 300. Photo Silversalt Photography.|
|Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view, 2015. Foreground: Gracie Kumbi, Merrepen, screenprint on cotton. Photo Silversalt Photography.
||Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen: view 2015. Foreground: Marita Sambono, Fog Dreaming. Photo Silversalt Photography.|
Curator, Marie Falcinella: is a Project Coordinator and Curator. She was Interim Manager at Merrepen Arts in 2015, has worked with Elcho Island Arts and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre and was Gallery Manager and Senior Curator of Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne.
Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart AM, is an artist, author, linguist and educator. Patricia McTaggart was the co-compiler of the dictionaries and thesauruses for the Ngan’gikurunggurr, Ngen’giwumirri, and other traditional languages. Patricia contributed to the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission compilation of two botanical books detailing plant use in Daly River area by Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri peoples, Malak Malak and Matngala peoples. These botanical books record fauna and flora knowledge in traditional and the English languages. Her artwork has been widely exhibited including Art Gallery of Western Australia. She is a Member of the Order of Australia and past President Nauiyu Community Merrepen Arts Centre. View full bio
Kieren Karritpul often uses the woven line as his motif. Images of bundled pandanus (yerrgi), woven baskets, coolamons and fish traps honour his mother’s and grandmother’s knowledge of collecting, dyeing and weaving pandanus and sand palm (merrepen) fibre. In 2014 Karritpul’s work ‘Yerrgi’, won the Youth Award at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. In 2015 he was a finalist for the Northern Territory Young Achiever Awards, Charles Darwin University Arts Award. View full bio
Gracie Kumbi creates distinctive patterns such as the exhibition’s signature work ‘Merrepen’. Gracie is the Indigenous Arts Coordinator at Merrepen Arts at Daly River-Nauiyu Nambiyu Community. After attending St John’s College in Darwin, she started painting at the Women’s Centre. View full bio
Aaron McTaggart trained at school and by watching his mother, Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart, paint at home. He was born in Darwin and went to school both in Nauiyu (St Francis Xavier School) and Darwin at St Mary’s Primary School. He also attended St Johns College in Darwin. He is a Wesfarmers Indigenous Leader trained at the National Gallery of Australia. View full bio
Ann Carmel Mulvien worked for Merrepen Arts from 1987-2010, and prior to that worked at the school library. Anne is a deep thinker and diligent artist. In her spare time she likes to go bush or stay at Merrepen Outstation - her father’s country. She has a strong affinity to that place and her paintings are greatly influenced by that connection. View full bio
Marita Sambono was born in the old Daly River hospital within the mission. She went to the mission school and worked in the Health Clinic after leaving school. Marita is married with three children. The family moved to Darwin for a while, she returned to Daly River with her family and shortly commenced work at Merrepen Arts. View full bio
Christina Yambeing’s venture into environmental painting is a breakaway for her. She is a director of Merrepen Arts, Culture and Language Aboriginal Corporation. She attended Kormilda College in Darwin before she began training as a teacher and artist. View full bio
Top End Environment
Ngan’gi Plants and Animals, 2014 by ethnobiologist Glenn Wightman and artist Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart AM.
Presents Ngan'gi biocultural knowledge and relatively recent scientific knowledge of the country. It also includes seasonal indicators and a guide to Ngan'gi language. The book contains over 560 plants and animals, 250 photographs and 300 illustrations of plants, animals, people and country. See: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-10/ngangi-plants-animals-book-indigenous-ecology/5496446Wetland Habitats of The Top End - Michael Michie http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/habitat1.htm
Environment Centre NT - http://ecnt.org.au/
Essay by Maurice O’Riordan, Woven Lines: On Kieren Karritul. Courtesy Maurice O’Riordan, director NCCA and Nomad Art, Darwin. > Download as pdf
Strategic Plan of the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS) in Sydney, February 2017). See page 2: 'Merrepen', a screenprinted textile length on linen, designed and made by Gracie Kumbi, Merrepen Art Centre, Nauiyu on the Daly River, Northern Territory, Australia, 2013. Image credit: Marinco Kojdanovs > Download as pdf
‘Textiles from Merrepen Arts’ by Anne-Marie Van De Ven, MAAS Magazine, Winter 2016. On new acquisitions from Following Lines: Art and Ecology from Merrepen. > Download as pdf
27th Merrepen Arts & Cultural Festival - http://news.aboriginalartdirectory.com/2014/04/27th-merrepen-arts-cultural-festival.php
Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Textiles Nauiyu Community, Daly River, Northern Territory