Looking at Art - May

Sarah Bidingal Ashley

<strong>Sarah Bidingal Ashley</strong><br/>Born Dhuindji [Gurrumala], Northeast Arnhem Land; resides Beswick, NT<br/>Skin/Malk: Ngaritjan<br/>Moiety: Yirritja<br/>Language: Rittharrngu/Wagilak<br/><br/><i>Mukuy 1, Mukuy 2</i> &<i> Dillybag with sugarbag wax</i> 2009<br/>Hand-woven natural pandanus dyed with local bush colour<br/>CDU Art Collection – CDU1678, 1679 & 1674<br/>Image © the artist & courtesy Djilpin Arts, Beswick NT

Accomplished weaver and fibre artist Sarah Bidingal Ashley is represented by Djilpin Arts, an Aboriginal organisation that owns and operates the Ghunmarn Culture Centre located on the Aboriginal community of Beswick (Wugularr), about 100 kilometres east of Katherine. Ashley’s home country, Dhuindji, is a “seat of government” in Arnhem Land and a centre for ceremony, stories and songs.  The artist describes it as the “Canberra” of Arnhem Land.

Renowned for her woven baskets and mats, Ashley extended her creative practice in new and unexpected ways during her participation in The Pandanus Project (2008-2011).  Brokered by Katherine-based fibre artist Adrienne Kneebone, the project initially offered women from the Wugularr community opportunities to experiment individually and collaboratively with new ideas and contemporary techniques in fibre art, whilst drawing on existing and inherited knowledge and expertise. During a three-year period, Indigenous weavers from Bulman as well as Beswick, and other artists from the Katherine region, participated in The Pandanus Project.  Their work has been exhibited in Darwin and Melbourne, and at the Indonesian International Fibre Art exhibition in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

During the course of The Pandanus Project, Ashley introduced figurative objects to her existing repertoire of functional woven items, the principal being Mukuy or Buhl-mandi, translated into Kriol as “devil-devil” spirit creatures. Unlike their benign and playful counterparts, the Mimih spirits, Mukuy are dangerous: both feared and respected. Ashley’s Mukuy emanate from Yirritja country known as Galanbirni. Legend has it that they can be heard at night playing the didjeridu and can disorientate unsuspecting humans in otherwise familiar country. Other subjects transformed into woven sculptures by the artist include mermaids (Mahngga Mahnggah), letter or message sticks (used by Mukuy), fans, bracelets, dillybags and buckled belts.

Mukuy 1 and Mukuy 2 2009 capture the spindly-legged, splayed feet and slim-bodied physique of traditional devil-devil spirit figures, often seen in rock art of the region. Heads or faces are absent, replaced by ring-handle and tassle, the creatures’ torsos decorated with alternating stripes, like dilly-bags. Although diminutive, they emit a quiet yet ominous presence drawn from the unseen and little known shadow world within Aboriginal country.

 A selection of eight weavings by Sarah Bidingal Ashley, along with one work by Rita Cameron also created during The Pandanus Project, are displayed in the CDU Art Gallery’s current exhibition Made to last: the conservation of art, showing from 10 April to 27 June 2014.

 See: www.cdu.edu.au/artgallery

Anita Angel, Curator
Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
5 May 2014

Sources:

Artist’s CV, Djilpin Arts – Ghunmarn Culture Centre, Katherine, 2009

W www.thepandanusproject.blogspot.com.au
W www.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/all-arts/the-pandanus-project-191705
W www.ankaaa.org.au/News/ANKAAA_BB_June09_digitalprint.pdf

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