Introducing Melbourne Indigenous Program recipient, Numbulwar Numburindi Arts!
Established in 2019, Numbulwar’s first art centre is 100% owned and controlled by the community. Born from the community’s desire to practice and engage with traditional culture, NNA is a space for artistic and cultural expression. Champions of fibre art, NNA artists marry naturally dyed and locally-harvested pandanus with bright and bold ghost nets of abandoned fishing line retrieved from Numbulwar’s shoreline. Their Wulbung (small selection pictured) fit as naturally in traditional applications as they do in contemporary, urban environments.
We love their mission to keep culture strong, ‘weaving culture and community’ and can’t wait to connect with them in person at The Finders Keepers – Melbourne/Naarm Market this Spring. Learn more about Numbulwar in our Creative Catch Up below before visiting them in Melbourne/Naarm at The Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton on 14-16 October!
Can you tell us about the artists you work with and how they became part of NNA?
Numbulwar Numburindi Arts began in 2019 when a group of master weavers won community support to start their own art centre. A basic demountable was erected next to the local shop, and a centre coordinator was appointed, both independently funded by the community, and that was it – Numbulwar Numburindi Arts was open!
Fibre artists in Numbulwar are taught to weave when they are about 12 or 13 years of age. Traditionally they work with pandanus that is harvested locally and dyed with natural roots, leaves and berries to create different colours. A range of objects can be made using various weaving techniques, including baskets, dilly bags, woven mats and even canoe sails.
Numbulwar is a community of about 700 people located in South East Arnhem Land where the Rose River meets the Gulf of Carpentaria. Life in Numbulwar centres around the saltwater, a source of fresh seafood and spiritual connection.
How important is the use of natural and salvaged materials in the artists’ fibre works?
Recently, Numburindi artists started using salvaged materials and natural fibres in their work. The local rangers help them to retrieve massive ghost nets, or abandoned fishing nets, that wash up on Numbulwar’s shores. Ghost nets account for about 40 per cent of all ocean plastic and take 600 years to break down. They travel thousands of kilometres on ocean currents, harming vulnerable marine life in their wake. The artists deep-clean the ghost nets and sometimes separate the fibres before they use them in their weaving. The colourful and contemporary addition of ghost nets has become Numbulwar Numburindi Arts’ signature style and helps to clean up Country from these harmful ocean plastics.
How long does an artwork typically take to complete, from harvesting the pandanus and salvaging the nets through to being ready for sale?
It can take weeks to make a basket or dilly bag. While the artists are pretty quick at weaving, the material harvesting and preparation takes a long time. The art centre doesn’t have a vehicle yet, so the artists walk on foot to collect pandanus fronds and natural dyes to use in their work. The pandanus then needs to be stripped, dried and boiled in salt water with the dyes before it is ready for weaving. It’s a lot of work, and many of the artists are in their 60s, 70s and even 80s!
You were established the year before the pandemic, in 2019. How did the pandemic impact the organisation?
Led by this bold, innovative and resilient group of artists, Numbulwar Numburindi Arts adapted quickly to the new digital environment. By July 2020, NNA had new branding and a new website that spoke to the vibrant heart of the organisation and introduced an online store that allowed it to sell online while many in-person events were being cancelled.
The Black Lives Matter movement happened in Australia at around the same time, so many people were actively looking for Indigenous businesses and causes to support. The support we received was vital in keeping the art centre going and growing at an extremely challenging time. Many in-person events turned into online events, and Numbulwar Numburindi Arts took up every opportunity that came our way – including the generous offer from The Finders Keepers to sell through its online marketplace.
Meanwhile, in Numbulwar, life didn’t change too much for our artists except that people couldn’t travel around as easily, so they kept weaving away to fulfil the growing demand for their beautiful fibre art. Now we are adapting back to life as ‘normal’, meaning our artists can travel to events and participate in exhibitions that help to grow their careers in new directions.
What can we expect from your stall at this event?
Lots of beautiful, colourful baskets hand-made by our artists! They are a perfect pop of colour and are very useful to store your fruit, bits and pieces, or hang on a wall to admire. Come down and say hi!