Marebu (Pandanus Mats)

Deborah Wurrkidj is a Kuninjku artist from the Kurulk clan whose country lies around the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land. She is an accomplished artist working across mediums including painting, sculpture, weaving and textile design. For this design, Deborah Wurrkidj has depicted Marebu (woven pandanus mats).

Works in fibre from the Maningrida region are widely recognised as some of the finest in Australia. Artists confidently push the boundaries of fibre craft and cultural expression, adapting traditional techniques and forms to produce strikingly inventive and aesthetically exquisite artworks.

Artists weave many different kinds of mats. Conical mats were traditionally used to shield babies from mosquitoes. Long flat mats were used for blocking creeks so that fish would be diverted into fish traps. A small triangular mat made of pandanus fibre used to be worn by women during ceremonial gatherings, tied around their back and covering them at the front. Mats are also used for wrapping and rinsing food in water.

Artists usually use kundayarr, pandanus spiralis, to weave decorative round or oblong mats, as well as the less common triangular and conical shapes. Weaving is physically hard work, now done only by women. They colour the pandanus using natural dyes made from the roots, leaves or flowers of plants within the weaver’s clan estate.

The radial woven patterns of the finest round mats appear to vibrate with colour, sometimes regarded as an aesthetic manifestation of deep cultural meaning, as there is a significant spiritual dimension to pandanus mats.