Deborah Wurrkidj’s work Ngaye nga-bengkan I have that knowledge) 2019 was finalist in the 2019 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA).
“This work has been created using silk stained with native botanicals in Arnhem Land. Deborah has a lifetime of experience dying pandanus, however this is the first time she has used ‘bush colour’ dye for purpose of dying woven fibres at the Babbarra Women’s Centre.
The process of collecting the botanicals is laborious. The yellow tone is from the root of the man-kurdudjumuk (coelospermum reticulatum), dug out in the sandy country near flood plains. Blue-silver is from the man-djurlukkun (antidesma ghesaembilla), a delicious red/purple berry, only occurring for a few weeks after the wet season. The rusty tone is from windilk (haemodorum coccineum), a flower which grows in the stone country.
After dying the fabrics, Deborah has printed various hand carved lino titles over the silks using metallic silver ink. The designs relate to women’s knowledge of country and environment- pandanus woven mats, dilly bags, water lily, pandanus trees, water hole and woven baskets.
“I was learning from the old people. I was taught by my grandma and the old women that dyeing story, same way I’m doing it with manburrbarr (fabric)- same leaves, same flowers, and same roots.
My grandmother told me, you don’t have to do it balanda (non- Aboriginal) way, you can do it our Aboriginal way. We have colour in our country, we know where it lives- our rock country and the flood plain way. Our plants- she will make lots of different colours, you just have to look.
We can eat the man-djurlukkun (native currant) for bush tucker, but also I was thinking, like my mind, I could use this manme (bush food) for dyeing. This is really the first time we have ever used this berry for dying- this year, 2019. I saw how good that colour looked I had that idea to use it at Babbarra on silk- but I had to stop those kids from eating those berries first- true story!”
Text by Deborah Wurrkidj and Ingrid Johanson, 2019
‘Ngaye nga-bengkan (I have that knowledge)’ 2019 natural dyes from man-kurdudjumuk (Coelospermum reticulatum), man-djurlukkun (Antidesma ghesaembilla) and windilk (Haemodorum coccineum) on silk with metallic fabric ink 140 x 300 cm (overall)
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Curated by Valerie Kirk, Head of Textiles at the Australian National University. The theme for the Biennial was the gathering of momentum and ideas in response to evolving current technologies in textiles. “History and Tradition have not been negated. On the contrary, there is a reawakened interest in preserving knowledge and expertise, respecting past traditions