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March 2007

Adelaide Fringe 2007 saw Ernabella Arts Inc hold its first exclusively Tjanpi (fibre sculpture/basket) exhibition. The exhibition showcased work of various styles and scale showing the imaginative, unique, quirky and stylish aesthetic of the women of Ernabella. Their works included 2 and 3 dimensional fibre sculpture and sculptural and practical baskets, often decorated with wool, painted gumnuts and seeds.  Making Tjanpi - anything made of grass - is a popular occupation in Indigenous communities in the Central Desert Region and its recognition as an art from is growing. In recent years the artists at Ernabella have started to use tjanpi to make baskets and various sculptural objects for sale. There is nothing in nature on the Lands that can provide the artists with a string or tie that is long enough to hold the tjanpi stems together (unlike their countrywomen in the Top End who use pandanus which provides a fibre string metres long) and so shop bought raffia or wool is used.  The birds and animals have been made for fun. People love going out bush and collecting the grass and sitting down together to dream up a shape. Knees and other joints are a small engineering challenge, frequently met by the artist choosing to create a nesting bird. As well as tjanpi some larger heavier pieces are made using punti a cassia species that is common in the area. Most of the sculptures are bound together with varieties of wool including traditionally hand spun sheep’s wool using the Pitjantjatjara spindle to make the thread. Many of the currently practicing Ernabella artists began their careers as hand loom weavers producing fine woolen goods and the skills they learnt as weavers enable them to produce some of the most accomplished tjanpi work from the APY Lands.

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