Bábbarra: Women Printing Culture

Ended — at The Cross Art Projects

Date & Time

Start:
End:

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).

Participating Artists