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Australian Aboriginal women tell their stories in a new exhibition

An ongoing exhibition in Bengaluru, ‘Jarrachara’, tells the stories of Australian Aboriginal communities through textile designs

Visitors at the Jarrachara exhibition.
Visitors at the Jarrachara exhibition.

After successful exhibitions in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai, Jarracharra, an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art, has arrived at its last stop in India—Bengaluru. The ongoing exhibition highlights the importance of Australia’s First Nation cultures as an essential part of its national identity through textile designs.

The title Jarracharra refers to a distinctive wind which blows across Arnhem Land in Australia’s far north during the dry season and is a tribute to women from the Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Based in the Maningrida region of the Arnhem Land, the centre supports Aboriginal women in creating powerful textile designs, with every inch of fabric telling stories of their history, culture, and tradition. Many of these designs are currently being displayed at the exhibition in Bengaluru. 

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“The exhibition tells stories of the First Nation people's histories through artwork. These women are telling their stories through beautiful textile designs and we want them to reach as many people as possible from across the world. What better way to talk about culture and history than beautiful artworks?” asks Sarah Kirlew, spokesperson, Australian Consulate-General for South India, which is hosting the exhibition. 

Textile designs that tell stories.
Textile designs that tell stories.

The travelling exhibition includes screen-printed textiles created by female First Nations artists from the Babbarra Women's Centre, which was set up to support local women run enterprises and have healthy and sustainable livelihoods. The artists showcase ancient narratives through contemporary designs—thus creating a bridge between history and the present. Currently, about 26 designs by 11 artists are being displayed. “The designs take visitors through the history of Aboriginal artists and their communities, telling stories about the history of the continent, depiction of traditional knowledge and spiritual beliefs, and even teachings about traditional dishes using mud crabs or yams,” explains Kirlew.

Bábbarra Designs, set up in 1989, is the primary enterprise of the Babbarra Women’s Centre which specialises in creating hand-printed fabric designs using linocut block prints and screen prints. This is one of a handful of Indigenous textile-producing art centres in the country that designs, prints and sews onsite and within the community. These women are part of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, set up by Maningrida community leaders in 1974 to help people continue to live in their homelands.

Talking about the enterprise, the artists state on their official website, "People tell us our designs are bold and elegant, but for us, they are more than designs: these designs tell the stories of our lives. They bring a lot of joy to everyone – to us, our families and our customers alike. Working creatively with Bábbarra Designs is a way for us to achieve financial independence, for our community and the next generations."

The ongoing exhibition in Bengaluru, for the first time, includes new pieces and woodblocks developed collaboratively between Babbarra Women’s Centre and the Tharangini studio when the former visited the city earlier this year. The new collaborative textiles combine traditional Indian woodblock carving and printing with indigenous Australian designs.

 “For the collaborative designs, the artists from Tharangini Studio worked with some of our artists during their visit to Bengaluru in January to turn aboriginal iconographs into teak-carved wood blocks and co-created beautiful artworks using them," Kirlew tells Lounge

She further explains that the Australian indigenous art is older than the Egyptian pyramids and the paintings were initially done on block woods, caves, and sand as a form of storytelling. About 50,000 years ago, artists started to move to other mediums such as canvas and now they are exploring textile art and they are still evolving.

Some of the designs displayed at Jarrachara exhibition.
Some of the designs displayed at Jarrachara exhibition.

Even though the two artist communities didn’t share a common spoken language, their shared passion for art became a language of its own. “These pieces will be included in the exhibition to the rest of the world and the collaboration with India will now be a part of.” The exhibition is heading back to Europe after India.

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In India, along with the positive reactions to the exhibition, it spurred conversation about similarities between some Indian and Australian Aboriginal cultures. “Visitors would often point out the similarities in languages. For instance, the Tamil word for dot is pulli and the same word is used by some of the western indigenous communities to refer to dot,” Kirlew adds.

Some of the participating artists include Belinda Kuriniya, Carol Liyawanga, Deborah Wurrkidj, and Elizabeth Wullunmingu.

Jarracharra exhibition is being held at Bangalore International Centre until 25 May.

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