Maria Fernanda Cardoso:
Maria Fernanda Cardoso is a leading Latin American artist, born in Bogota, Columbia who has lived and worked in Sydney since 1996. Cardoso’s practice explores the complex relationship between nature and culture and is characterised by the use of unconventional materials.
Cardoso’s sculptures and installations utilise preserved animals and animal products which she sources from scientific supply companies as well as the rural, medicinal and even tourist industries. She has incorporated gourds, corncobs, piranhas, butterflies, frogs, lizards, snakes, starfish and cow bones in her works to focus attention on the economic ties, cultural beliefs and emotional responses that underpin human relationships to the natural world. Her early works integrated references to sacred animals of pre-Columbian culture and her more recent works with sheep skin and emu feathers explore the iconic animals of her new home, continuing her investigation of the culturally-fuelled symbolism that connects people and place.
Cardoso often utilises repetition and patterning in her work mimicking the structuring principles of nature as well as echoing the aesthetic principles of minimalism.
Alison Clouston is a visual artist born in New Zealand who moved to Australia in the early eighties and is now based in the Burragorang Valley in South East NSW. Clouston works in sculpture and installation and is particularly interested in gauging the human impact on the environment.
Her artworks are concerned with global environmental issues such as water management, climate change and the extinction of natural species. She works primarily with natural, found and recycled materials, such as salvaged fallen trees, animal hides, kangaroo and wombat bones and bird nests most of which are collected from the valley where she lives; but have also incorporated solar batteries, solar panels, irrigation piping and greenhouse audits and offsets. Clouston often collaborates with sound artist, Boyd. Their hybrid installations have included audio recordings of creaking branches, trickling creek water, stomach rumbling, grunting koalas and birdsong to evoke the delicate and complex systems in nature and the vulnerable habitats of shared ecosystems.
Clouston has also referenced historical cultural relationships with the natural world as represented through the Norse concept of the World Tree and ancient river craft called coracles.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers:
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is the dynamic arts employment enterprise within the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. The Women’s Council was formed as a response to the land rights struggles of the late 1970’s when Anangu (Aboriginal) women realised that they had no voice and no visibility. Their thought was that as single women they could not be heard but as a strong and collective group they would have a formidable presence. The Women’s Council was incorporated in 1980 and since that time has grown from an advocacy service into a major indigenous directed organisation delivering a wide range of health, social and cultural services to women living in 28 desert communities across the tri-state border area of WA, SA and NT. This vast region is often referred to as ‘the Lands’. The Council’s primary objective is to improve life on the Lands for women and children.
Tjanpi (meaning grass) began in 1995 as a series of basket-making workshops held in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of WA. Women wanted meaningful employment on their homelands so as to better provide for their families. Building upon a long history of using natural fibres to make objects for ceremonial and daily use, women took quickly to coiled basketry. These new skills were shared with relatives and friends on neighbouring communities and basket-making spread. Soon afterwards, women began to experiment with fashioning sculptural forms. Today there are over 350 women across three states making spectacular contemporary fibre art from locally collected grasses and working with fibre in this way is a fundamental part of Central and Western Desert culture.
At its core Tjanpi is about family and community. Not only do they earn money from selling their fibre work, but while out collecting grass women take time to hunt, gather food, visit sacred sites and teach their children about country. Tjanpi work is work that more than accommodates social and cultural obligations, it encourages them. The Tjanpi family is a wide-reaching network of mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters and grandmothers whose shared stories, skills and experiences are the bloodline of the desert weaving phenomenon.
Tjanpi’s philosophy is to keep culture strong, maintain links with country and provide meaningful employment to the keepers and teachers of desert weaving.
In 2005, just ten years after the first basket-making workshops were held, Tjanpi Desert Weavers was awarded the most prestigious national award for Indigenous art, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, for its Tjanpi Toyota. Today fibre works by Tjanpi artists are showcased through an annual interstate exhibition programme and represented in major public and private collections nationally.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers: Fibre artists
Anangu women of the Central Desert region have for a very long time worked with natural fibres to create items for daily and ceremonial use such as head-rings, bush sandals, feather pouches and hairstring belts, skirts, and face coverings.
When Anangu women first made baskets they called them manguri after the circular head–rings used to balance carrying dishes on their heads. Tjanpi baskets are made using a coiling technique where robust desert grasses (tjanpi) form the core of the coils which are then wrapped and oversewn with string, wool or raffia and often decorated with feathers and seeds. Anangu women make baskets that range in size from tiny works that fit in the palm of your hand to large sculptural vessels of all different shapes and forms.
Sculptural work was first produced in 1998 when Kantjupayi Benson from Papulankutja added a handle to a basket and made a grass mug followed by a set of camp crockery, frypans and billy cans, and a number of dogs. Her lead was taken up by others and Tjanpi weavers have since proven consistently innovative in their sculptural work, drawing inspiration from everyday community life as well as Tjukurpa stories, to produce quirky, animated figures, animals and objects with great presence.
Fibre sculptures are made from tjanpi gathered locally and combined with a variety of other materials. The collected grass is bundled and manipulated to create the shapes of limbs, torsos and heads, of animals and figures, and then bound and stitched with wool, string and raffia to hold the shape and to make it strong. Once the basic form is in place more and more layers of grass are added and stitched and wrapped until the final form is complete. Quite often emu feathers are mixed with crushed grass to make it more pliable and easier to use. Large works may be fashioned around pillow or mattress stuffing, bundles of plastic bags or old clothing, or supported by an armature made from aviary mesh. Sometimes limbs are strengthened with stiff wire or sticks. Often found materials are incorporated into the final design, including raw or hand-spun sheep wool, human hair, feathers and seeds, jumper sleeves, scrap cloth, plastic doll parts, fan casings, egg cartons, bottle caps, buttons and other discarded material found on the community.
The combination of materials and the way they have been energetically stitched and bound together creates an extremely textured and dynamic surface which gives the sculptures a lively and animated presence.