Book: Tjanpi Desert Weavers - Art Collector

18 June 2012 | The history of Tjanpi Desert Weavers has been chronicled in a glossy new coffee table book.

Tjanpi Desert Weavers
has been published with the support of the Balnaves Foundation, which also helped fund a two-year research period to gather stories and first hand accounts from key weavers in the movement.

It’s these first hand stories that bring the book to life, with the weavers talking candidly about what they make and why they make it.

“We work together making our baskets and sculptures and with the money we make from them we go and buy jam and butter, sugar and tea,” says one weaver, Faith Butler.

The Tjanpi model fills a gap because, unlike painting a canvas, the women can make a basket or sculpture relatively quickly, earning enough for small purchases like food or clothing for their family.

“There are few other examples of Aboriginal women being able to exercise such control over their lives,” says Maggie Kavanagh, who was instrumental in founding Tjanpi Desert Weavers in the mid 1990s.

Tjanpi has since become a vital source of income for hundreds of women in Central Australia. Unlike community-based art centres, Tjanpi works out of Alice Springs with staff travelling constantly around the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands to buy new work from its weavers.

In recent years Tjanpi has become known for standout pieces like the large woven Toyota Landcruiser which won the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2005.

The win clearly fuelled the creative energies of many weavers, who have been embracing an ever wider array of subjects drawn from community life.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers takes an in-depth look at some of these subjects, including camp dogs, camels, people and Toyotas. These sculptures are often extremely colourful, kooky and full of character.

The women take an obvious pride in their work and how it’s been embraced. There’s humour in the book too. “Yes, they [whitefellas] like it, to put it on top of their cupboards,” says one weaver Eunice Porter.

It also features extensive material on weaving techniques (tapestry needles were fashioned from the keys of tinned meats) as well as a timeline of the weaving movement. It’s illustrated with hundreds of colour photos of the women and their work, from the very early days of Tjanpi to the present.

Tjanpi Desert Weavers, compiled by Penny Watson, is published by Macmillan for Tjanpi Desert Weavers (softback, 368 pages).

Jane O'Sullivan

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