Looking at Art - August

<strong>Kate Miwulku</strong> <br/>Born c.1950 <br/>Language: Ndjébbana <br/>Region: Central Arnhem Land <br/>Moiety: Djówanga <br/>Subsection: Nja-búlanj <br/>Community: Maningrida, NT<br/><br/> <i>Fishtrap I </i>2001 <br/>Etching with chine collé, edn 20 (Workshop Proof) <br/>24.5 x 12cm [image]; 42.5 x 30cm [paper] <br/>Printer/Collaborator: Monique Auricchio <br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – NTU1073 <br/>Gifted by the artist and Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop, 2002 <br/>Image © the artist and courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture, NT

The Maningrida region is renowned for its fibre art tradition, elements of which are echoed in the innumerable depictions of woven ceremonial and utilitarian objects – baskets, dilly-bags, fish-fences and fish-traps – found in rock art throughout the Arnhem Land escarpment.

An extension of this tradition is today apparent in the innovative woven sculptures and objects made by predominantly female artists of the region, whose creative repertoire continues to challenge conventional Western aesthetic categories of “fine art” and “applied craft”.

The introduction of Western printmaking techniques at Maningrida is a relatively recent phenomenon, although individual male artists travelled to southern cities since the late 1970s to create prints.

Between 1997 and 2002, a community and Darwin-based series of workshops were conducted through the CDU Art School’s remote area teaching program and by Northern Editions Printmaking Studio, under the auspices of the Maningrida Women’s Centre.

The workshops enabled many female artists in the region to discover and experiment with intaglio printing (lino-cuts and etchings), a medium paralleling the conceptual and physical synergies of the art of weaving – a category of art-making for which they are widely celebrated and studied.

New colour schemes, infill devices and compositional possibilities emerged, together with new subject matter – including that once regarded as the domain of male artists.

French master printmaker Jean Kohen has since worked with a range of Maningrida artists in the production of limited edition etchings, gravitating printmaking by both men and women to new levels of sophistication and creative innovation.

Mandjabu (conical fish-traps) were traditionally made only by senior men in the Maningrida region, including the late Kuninjku artist Anchor Kulunba, whose ceremonial custodianship of this art form remains undisputed.

His skeletal, voluminous mandjabu – like drawings in air – and weighty kunmadj (baskets), woven in thick milil (jungle vine – Malaisia scandens), were however, often made with the assistance of his wife, Mary Marabamba, herself a weaver and printmaker of note.

With the encouragement and support of Maningrida Arts and Culture, the recent revival of fish-trap making by a number of other Maningrida groups (the Burarra, for example) and individual artists – male and female – is reflected in the subject-matter of Kate Miwulku’s etching.

In Miwulku’s bold, densely graven vertical depiction of mandjabu, the subject’s utilitarian purpose is inverted: its aesthetic possibilities as a sculpture, refigured in two-dimensional form, take precedence over its original function.

Her etching retains the gravitas and corporeal nature of fish-traps despite its modest scale, referencing a traditionally male cultural domain in a new light, as a contemporary female artist.

Miwulku works in a variety of media, including weaving, bark-painting and printmaking. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions in Australia and abroad since 1995.

She is represented in public collections including the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW, Queensland Art Gallery and the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, as well as significant private collections, nationally and internationally.

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection

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