Nganmarra: the container of life

Nganmarra: the container of life

Date(s) - 08/10/2015 - 31/01/2016
10:00 am - 4:00 pm


The extraordinary talents of senior female artists from north-east Arnhem Land will be showcased at Adelaide Botanic Garden’s Santos Museum of Economic Botany from October as part of an Adelaide-wide festival celebrating contemporary Indigenous art.

Nganmarra: the container of life (8 October 2015 – 31 January 2016) offers an immersive installation of traditional woven mats made from the leaves of the Gunga plant (Pandanus spiralis), featuring intricate and vibrant radial patterns with natural dyes.

Part of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, TARNANTHI (pronounced tar-nan-dee), Nganmarra features works by Yolngu artists Frances Djulibing Daingangan, Mary Dhapalany, Robyn Djunginy, Julie Djulibing and Evonne Munuyngu from Bula’bula Arts in Ramingining, north-east Arnhem Land.

The artists’ extensive weaving skills have been passed down from their parents and grandparents in the same way stories and songlines are carried from one generation to the next in Yolngu culture.

They have also incorporated new techniques and ideas into their work, adapting and developing innovative ways to express themselves and their culture through fibre.

With the Yolngu Matha word “nganmarra” translating as “womb” and the nganmarra mat symbolising birth and fertility, the works in this exhibition embody and enact the power of the Djang’kawu (ancestral beings who created all life on Earth) creation.

The mats are a protective covering when sleeping; are flattened in half and used for sitting and to prepare food; folded in quarter and used to carry things; and were suspended in a triangular shape in front of a woman’s body for modesty and during pregnancy, reflecting the name and the mat’s deeper spiritual significance as a “container of life”.

Ceremonially, women and children hide themselves from restricted dances, emerging from under the mats to represent the birth of the Djang’kawu children.

The works of art in Nganmarra: the container of life do not hang on walls to be experienced only by sight – instead visitors are invited to touch the artwork, sit on it or remove shoes to walk on it, just as Djang’kawu ancestors and Yolgnu today journey barefoot to engage with country and cultural meaning.

Curator of The Santos Museum of Economic Botany, Tony Kanellos, said learning from “other” cultures, sharing knowledge and stories, and provoking important conversations about the nature of our relationship with plants have always been the primary purposes of the museum.

Nganmarra is a perfect example of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the plant world,” Mr Kanellos says.

“Presented as an installation, this exhibition demands we connect with the work physically, intellectually and emotionally – feet first, followed by our heads and hearts.”

An official opening afternoon for Nganmarra: container of life – including a weaving workshop led by the Bula’bula artists – will take place at the Santos Museum of Economic Botany on Sunday 11 October from 4-6pm, with the general public invited to attend.

Nganmarra is supported by TARNANTHI | Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia in partnership with BHP Billiton and supported by the Government of South Australia.

Nganmarra: container of life
Santos Museum of Economic Botany, Adelaide Botanic Garden
8 October 2015 – 31 January 2016
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 4pm
Entry is free


Santos Museum of Economic Botany

Location Details
Santos Museum of Economic Botany Adelaide Botanic Garden, North Terrace Adelaide

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