Indigenous weavers give VCA and MCM students insight into contemporary Australian art

August 14 / 142

Artist Roma Butler with VCA students. Photo: Steven Wyld.
Artist Roma Butler with VCA students. Photo: Steven Wyld.

The renowned Tjanpi Desert Weavers have visited the University for a series of three masterclasses for Fine Arts students.

The Weavers worked with undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM).

Building on the traditions of using natural fibres to create objects for medicinal, ceremonial and daily use, the Tjanpi – or ‘dry grass’ – Weavers are women who come together to visit sacred sites and traditional homelands, hunt and gather food for their families and teach their children about country while collecting grasses to sculpt and weave.

Students worked directly with the accomplished artists to learn new techniques and expand upon their own diverse disciplines in painting, drawing, music, sculpture and spatial practice as well as film and television.

Sculpture student Tia Mavanie said the visit was a highlight.

“I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to learn the ancient art of weaving first hand from those special women,” she said. 

“I'm finding it to be an extremely rewarding and meditative practice.”

Tiriki Onus, lecturer in Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Practices at the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, said the masterclasses were a precious experience for budding artists.

“Too often there is a false distinction drawn between craft and fine art,” she said. 

“The women from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers are contemporary fine artists, as well as seasoned teachers, performers and cultural ambassadors who not only maintain traditions within their own art form but also innovate upon them. ”

Today there are over 400 women across 28 communities making baskets and sculptures out of grass.  

Working with fibre in this way is firmly embedded in Western and Central Desert Indigenous culture.

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