The Bábbarra Women’s Centre is one of the most important community spaces in Maningrida, a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land at the tip of the Northern Territory. Founded in 1983 initially as a women’s refuge, today the Bábbarra Women’s Centre is a thriving hub of enterprise and activity. ‘It’s quite essential in the community’, says Jessica Phillips, Bábbarra’s first local Indigenous manager. ‘It’s a space for women and only women to get into screen printing, being creative, and to have something to do.’ At least 15 women, sometimes more, from many different language groups (all of the artists are multi-lingual of at least five languages) come together at the Bábbarra Women’s Centre on a daily basis to work on screen printing, lino cutting and sewing alongside each other, telling the stories of their ancestors and their country through the creations.
A couple of years ago, the women from Bábbarra decided they wanted to take on a new project. ‘All the Bábbarra ladies, we sat down and had the idea for our designs on sheets and for beds a long time ago’, tells artist Raylene Bonson, whose mother was a founding member of the Bábbarra Women’s Centre. After a bit of research, Bábbarra’s previous manager Ingrid Johnson came across female-led Melbourne bedding and homewares label Kip&Co, and reached out about the potential of working together on a collaboration. After two years of development between Maningrida and Melbourne, the Bábbarra Women’s Centre x Kip&Co collection is finally ready for the world to see.
This absolutely beautiful collection features eight unique artworks from seven Bábbarra Women’s Centre artists – Deborah Wurrkidj, Elizabeth Wullunmingu, Helen Lanyinwanga (deceased), Janet Marawarr, Jennifer Wurrkidj, Margot Gurawiliwili, and Raylene Bonson. Every element – from artwork selection, to product range, colours and labels – has been led by the women at Bábbarra. Profits from sales of the collection will be divided equally between Bábbarra and Kip&Co, and copyright specialists The Copyright Agency were engaged from the very beginning of the project to ensure best practice for licensing and ethical processes were upheld throughout its execution.
After many months of back and forths, sign-offs, and approvals, in February of this year the Kip&Co founders Alex McCabe, Kate Heppell, and Hayley Pannekoecke travelled to Maningrida with their kids to meet all the women and reveal the final collection, where it was shot on country with the permission of the traditional land owners. ‘It was a chance to meet these amazing artists in person, and to deepen our understanding of the stories behind the artwork’, reflects co-founder Alex McCabe of the transformative trip. ‘We were moved by the history of the arts centre, founded as a safe haven for women, and by the spirit of the artists – their creativity and determination. We believe this spirit has been captured in this beautifully designed range.’
The Bábbarra ladies are equally proud of this landmark collaboration. ‘I feel good Australia will see my design and know my story. The Bábbarra ladies are so strong. We have the strongest ladies at the women’s centre. We always work together, and feel proud of our work here,’ shares Raylene.
The Kip&Co x Bábbarra Women’s Centre collection has been shortlisted in the Textile Design category for the TDF + Laminex Design Awards – and you can clearly see why. Today we learn a little more about each of the women, and the important stories behind their designs.
JANET MARAWARR – ‘KUNKURRA’, 2015
Janet is a talented linocut and screen print designer. She regards textile design as an opportunity to work with colour and a new method to express her djang (ancestral creator stories).
As well as her artistic work with Bábbarra Women’s Centre, she works for the Maningrida Night Patrol, a community safety service. Janet’s ancestor spirits are Mandjurlukkun (wild blackberries), and Dadbe (King brown snake).
This work depicts the kunkurra, the spiralling wind associated with several sites in the Kardbam clan. The artwork has two stories. First, it shows the kinds of mini-cyclones common during the wet season in Arnhem Land. Second, Kunkurra relates specifically to a site called Bilwoyinj, near Mankorlod, on Janet’s husband’s clan estate. At this site, two of the most important Kuninjku creation beings, a father and son known as nakorrkko, are believed to have hunted and eaten a goanna. They left some of the goanna fat behind at the site, which turned into the rock that still stands there today
Helen Lanyinwanga – ‘Ngarduk Kunred’, 2017
Helen (deceased) was a senior textile artist with Bábbarra Designs since 2008. Helen had a key role mentoring young and emerging artists, and she is mother to leading Bábbarra artists including Jennifer Wurrkidj and Deborah Wurrkidj (pictured here proudly with her mother’s design), both of whom are part of the Kip&Co collaboration.
Helen was also an accomplished artist in other mediums, notably basket weavings and prints on paper. Her artwork has toured the United States and been exhibited throughout Australia, and her textile art is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Helen’s ancestor spirits were Djaddi (green monkey frog), Yawkyawk (female water spirits).
‘My design is of the kunbad (rocks) at the kunwardde (stone country). I call this country mother. These rocks live at the bottom of the kunronj (fresh water)- some are old, some are cracked and some are soft. The kunronj runs over the stones, and when we drinkthis water it tastes sweet and fresh.’
RAYLENE BONSON – ‘WUBBUNJ’, 2016
Raylene is a talented textile artist, specialising in linocut technique. She has been working with Bábbarra Designs since 2012. Raylene was mentored by her late mother, Nancy Gununwanga, a senior textile artist at Bábbarra Designs, and a founding member of Bábbarra Women’s Centre.
Raylene is well known for her designs depicting ancestral stories and ceremonial objects, in particular lorrkkon (hollow log for burial ceremony), kunmadj (dillybag) and mandjabu (conical fishtrap).
Her ancestor spirits are Yawkyawk (female water spirit), and Djaddi (green monkey frog).
‘Wubbunj is our traditional canoe. This design is the old history story of how people came to live in this place we call Maningrida. Two old people were staying on the other side of the saltwater, in Narlarrambarr area. The old people slept in a paperbark shelter and hunted on the water using their canoe. One day these old people saw a new boat in their waters, which belonged to the Makassans (Indonesians). Those two old men saw the big Makassan boat coming in, and decided to paddle their canoe from Narlarrambarr to the other side (modern day Maningrida). We were scared of the Makassans, they gave us tobacco and tea, but they took many of our women. When those two old people tasted that water at Maningrida from the Djomi spring, it was sweet freshwater and they decided to stay here.’
DEBORAH WURRKIDJ – ‘MANWAK’, 2017 + ‘MAREBU’, 2012
Deborah Wurrkidj is a Kuninjku artist from the Kurulk clan whose country lies around the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land. She is an accomplished artist working across mediums including bark painting, sculpture, weaving and textile design.
Deborah is world renowned for her bark painting, lorrkkon (hollow logs), and fibre baskets. She has exhibited widely since 2001, throughout Australia as well as in Europe and the United States. She is represented in most of Australia’s state gallery collections. Her ancestor spirits are Dadbe (King brown snake), Djimarr (Black crow), and Buluwana (woman spirit).
Deborah has two artworks featured in the Kip + Co collection. The first one – ‘Manwak’, depicts the Manwak flower which grows near Mumeka creek, on Deborah’s homeland. ‘When I was painting this Manwak story, I was painting in Maningrida. In my head I was dreaming of being on my homeland, eating ripe Manwak berries’, Deborah shares.
The second artwork, ‘Marebu’, depicts Marebu, woven pandanus mats, which Deborah often weaves for the Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre, the sister Art Centre to Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida.
ELIZABETH WULLUNMINGU – ‘BARNKABARRA’, 2010
Elizabeth was born in Darwin. She started sewing and designing at Bábbarra in 2010 and is a key member of the sewing team.
Elizabeth artistic talent comes from her mother who was an artist for the iconic Desert Designs label. Elizabeth designed and sewed outfits for the 2018 Commonwealth Games!
Her ancestor spirits are Rrugurrgurda (Crab) and Jin-Merdawa (Saltwater Mermaid).
This design tells the story of Elizabeth’s homeland, east of Maningrida, at the mouth of Blyth river. Many families go to that country to collect crabs, hunting in mangrove holes with long sticks, or spearing the crabs directly on the shore. Mud crabs hide in the muddy bottoms of estuaries and mangrove forests in areas surrounding Maningrida. After a king tide, a large cyclical tide which bring the crabs out from the mangroves, it is the perfect time to find crabs.
MARGOT GURAWILIWILI – ‘DJENJ DJA KOMRDAWH’, 2006
In addition to being a strong textile artist, Margot is also a talented weaver, skillfully weaving pandanus into colourful baskets and dillybags. She uses a number of weaving techniques, including coiling and twinning, and makes a range of functional and ceremonial objects, including baskets, dilly bags, string bags and mats.
Margot is renowned for her bold designs, the consistency of her weave and her sophisticated sense of form. She is confident sourcing a diverse range of pigments from natural plant materials, such as leaves, roots and berries.
‘My country is called Mankorlod. It is near the rock country. My dreaming is komrdawh (long neck turtle), the one I painted in my design. I like to eat komrdawh, it tastes really nice. We catch them in dry and wet season near Mankorlod. This is my first ever design, and I only have one design. I painted it with brush at Bábbarra Women’s Centre, and I feel proud when people print my design,’ tells Margot.
JENNIFER WURRKIDJ – ‘KUNRONJ’, 2007
Jennifer is a Kuninjku artist from the Kurulk clan whose country lies around the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land.
Sister of Deborah Wurrkidj, the two women are the nieces (daughters in Kuninjku relational terms) of Australia’s most highly acclaimed bark painter, John Mawurndjul. The two women are renowned, in their own right, for their bark paintings, hollow logs and carved sculptures.
Jennifer’s ancestor spirits are Dadbe (King brown snake), Djimarr (Black crow), and Buluwana (woman spirit being).
This artwork depicts important manme (food) from freshwater environments on Jennifer’s country and the traditional tools used to gather them. The kunkaninj (digging stick) is used to dig for wayuk (waterlily) roots, which are eaten fresh from the water or cooked on an open fire.
Love it? Us too! You can purchase these incredible designs by Barbarra Women’s Centre x Kip&Co collection here!