Showcasing work by Meriam artist Gail Mabo and women artists from Peppinmenarti in the Northern Territory, two new exhibitions have opened at the University of Melbourne’s Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery.
Sand and Stars by Gail Mabo
This deeply personal work features bamboo star maps, akin to traditional maps given to visitors to the Torres Strait Islands.
Mabo’s maps are made from shells and bamboo planted by her father, the community leader and land rights advocate, Eddie Koiki Mabo, which she helped tend as a child. The maps show the constellation Tagai.
“To me, Tagai is very important,” says Mabo. “Tagai is the constellation that people navigate by and plant by.”
The exhibition also features cast bronze and digitally printed plastic sculptures of?star sand (wer weer), a particular kind of sand found on the western beach of Mer, which Mabo’s father showed her as a young girl.
“For me, this sand is magical. When you look at this sand under a microscope or with a magnifying glass, you’ll see that each tiny grain is actually star shaped,” says Mabo.
“For me, the maps are about connecting my Dad in many ways. They represent the Torres Straits, they represent my family, but most of all – they represent the handing down of knowledge from generation to generation.”
Falmi Ngerrmewuritytye Pupunyi (The women made these mats) by?Durrmu Arts
The women of Peppimenarti share new pandanus and sand-palm fibre weaving work. The vibrant weavings in this exhibition have been created by young women artists under the guidance of Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Cultural Director and senior artist at Durrmu Arts, Peppimenarti, 300km southwest of Darwin.
The weavings made from Yerrgi (pandanus) and Merrepen (sand palm) that are harvested on country and coloured using natural bush dyes draw on deep knowledge that has been passed on over many generations. Coming directly from country, the colours reflect the year’s harvest that differs from one season to the next.
“It’s an exact science, an alchemy” explains Kara Rodski, Community and Projects Coordinator at Durrmu Arts. “The colours are a beautiful reflection of place. Peppi Purple, for example, comes from a berry that grows on country and is truly different from any other purple.”
While the works in this exhibition draw on traditional practices, they also showcase the young artists’ distinct, contemporary styles.
“It’s a wonderful exchange of knowledge and practice, and it ensures culture stays strong for future generations” says Rodksi.
Dr David Sequeira, Director of the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery, says that both exhibitions highlight the artists’ poetic and profound relationship with time, country, and cosmos.
“We are honoured to be showing these two exquisite exhibitions. Although they come from very different parts of Australia, both bodies of work reveal intimate understandings of place that have passed from generation to generation,” said Dr Sequeira.
Sand and Stars by Gail Mabo and Falmi Ngerrmewuritytye Pupunyi (The women made these mats) by Durrmu Arts will be on display at the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery – The University of Melbourne (Southbank Campus) until 17 June 2023. For more information, visit: www.unimelb.edu.au for details.
Image: Gail Mabo, Sand and Stars, 2021 (cropped) Video Still – courtesy of the artist