Natsiaa 2022: Indigenous artist Rarru wins first prize with handwoven sail – The Guardian | Gmx Pharm

A “monumental” handwoven pandanus sail, symbolizing the centuries-long relationship between Arnhem Land’s Yolngu and their Macassan neighbors in Indonesia, has won first prize in the prestigious National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Natsiaa).

Margaret Rarru Garrawurra, an experienced Yolngu artist from Lanarra in Arnhem Land, took several months of daily work to create the stunning 2.8m high handwoven pandanus sail.

Garrawurra, who won the 2005 Bark Painting Award, said she was “proud and happy” to win the $100,000 grand prize for Dhomala (Pandanus sail), which was about her cultural identity and connection to her Father as well as the story is about relationships that exist between the Yolngu and the Macassans.

The award-winning 2.8m handwoven Pandanus sail is on display in Darwin. Photo: Mark Sherwood/MAGNT

“I was with my sisters when I found out about winning. We were very happy. It makes us proud to get the first prize,” said Garrawurra, known as Rarru.

“Yolngu people observed Macassan weaving their Dhomala over time…then they started making them. My father also learned the trade. He used to make them.

“I thought about how he made them, my father, and I started to remember. And now I’m doing these.”

The sail features stripes of distinctive pandanus dyed black. As a skilled weaver at the Milingimbi Arts Center, Rarru knows the recipe for making the black mol (dye) they used – and use of mol reserved for her and those to whom she gives permission.

A colorful painting by Ms. D. Yunupingu featuring pink flowers and some abstract figures on a large piece of fabric
Ms. D. Yunupingu won the Bark Award for her colorful work retelling a mermaid story. Photo: Mark Sherwood/MAGNT

Rarru said the work took months, from collecting pandanus and dyes in July last year to weaving them “every day, from dawn to dusk” from October to March, before it was complete.

The Natsiaa jury said the work was “a monumental sculpture that is both majestic in size and sophisticated in technical virtuosity.”

“Your is a powerful piece of work, reminding us that Yolngu are long-lived and intrepid explorers who participated in international trade long before the arrival of Europeans,” said jurors Myles Russell Cook and Dr. Joanna Barkman.

Winner of the work on paper was Larrakia artist Gary Lee for a beautiful portrait of his grandfather adorned with white flowers.

The late Mrs. D. Yunupingu from Yirrkala won the Bark Award for her lighthearted retelling of an important mermaid story, which is also a story of her relationship with her father and her traditional Zealand. Ms. Yunupingu, who, like her sisters, was a late master painter, used the glowing magenta of printer cartridges to create the backdrop, on which sit the spooky mermaids, who represent both sea creatures and the stars of the night sky.

From the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Center, Merrkiawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs accepted the award on behalf of her beloved ‘mermaid’.

“Mermaid is the spirit that revealed itself to her father, my grandfather, on Wessel Island when they lived there in the late 1930s,” Ganambarr-Stubbs said.

Ganambarr-Stubbs said the painting captured Ms. Yunupingu’s effervescent spirit.

“[In the painting room] you could always hear her from across the room, her laughter and she always said, ‘Great!’ That was her favorite word.

“If she were here, she would say, ‘This is great!'”

Darnley Island’s Jimmy Thaiday won the Multimedia Award for a moving film about the impact of climate change on his island and a nearby sand key that is now almost entirely submerged. Thaiday said the $15,000 prize will help him do more work to tackle the climate change crisis in Torres Strait.

“I encourage all of the younger generation to come up and speak up when they’re feeling helpless in the face of climate change,” Thaiday said. “It’s really affecting our sand key, affecting breeding seasons for animals, birds and plants, and our ability to go there and talk to younger ones about our traditions.”

An installation at Natsiaa 2022 with figures displayed in showcases in front of poster drawings
Some of the artworks on display as part of Natsiaa 2022. Photo: Mark Sherwood/MAGNT

Rebekah Raymond, curator of Aboriginal arts and material culture at MAGNT, said there were 63 finalists from across Australia, representing more than 44 different nations and language groups.

“This year I’ve seen a re-emergence of strong works made by hand in really tactile practices — carving, pottery, weaving — that celebrate the work with your hands in such an intimate way,” Raymond said.

“Life has slowed down a bit during Covid. For many of the artists in the north of this continent there has been a return to their home countries and it has given them more time to think about other things, to push their practice in new ways, to expand the scale or to return to something they have always done .”

  • The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Natsiaa) exhibition runs from August 6, 2022 to January 15, 2023 at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin. Details: www.natsiaa.com.au

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