Debutantes: Shirley Macnamara - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Debutantes feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Shirley Macnamara, Bush fascination I, 2011. Twined spinifex (Triodia longiceps), seed, emu bone, emu feathers, resin and wax thread, 47 x 20 x 13cm. Collection of the Queensland Art Gallery. Courtesy: the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

Born: 1949
First commercial gallery solo exhibition: October 2013, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne.

Shirley Macnamara, a weaver and painter, lives and works at Mount Guide Station near Mount Isa in Queensland. Working largely with spinifex grass, found in abundance throughout remote areas of regional Australia, she creates sculptural works that reflect her people’s history and surroundings.

The Indilandji/Alyawarre people have used the versatile spinifex to construct shelters and sleeping mats. Macnamara adapts these skills, twisting, moulding and coiling grasses that she then colours with natural pigments to create delicately-crafted but often strongly utilitarian vessels. In some cases they are embellished with seeds and natural resins, ochre, stones and feathers. The results, says Beverly Knight, the director of Alcaston Gallery where Macnamara will have her first solo show in 2013, “simultaneously convey strength and fragility”.

She adds: “Shirley Macnamara recognises that spinifex has not only been used by her people in constructing shelters but is also a place of refuge for insects and wildlife.” These ideas about shelter and refuge are explored in Macnamara’s work for the Asia Pacific Triennial, currently on exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. In these sculptural pieces spinifex grasses are intertwined with the roots of an old Turpentine tree – a metaphor on the fragility and tenacity of her people.

Amanda Woodard

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