8 February 2022
In St Lukes Gallery, the sisters are brought to life in a huge artwork that’s suspended from the ceiling. This has been a really popular installation with our visitors and the story of its creation is a fascinating insight into traditional sculpture making in the NPY Lands.
These life-sized tjanpi (grass) sculptures were created by the Tjanpi Art Weavers, who are part of the desert fibre art movement. The artwork began its life in the middle of the Australian desert, during a three-week camp at Kuru Ala.
This is a significant site in the Seven Sisters story. It’s where Wati Nyiru tricked the sisters into eating meat that made them sick before they flew into the sky to become stars. The weavers were filled with the spirit of the sisters as they worked.
As well as collaborating on the project it was a chance for the women weavers to travel and enjoy spending time together. It was also an opportunity to pass on traditional skills and keep the stories alive for future generations. An important part of the camp was to visit sacred sites and reciting inma (stories that are sung and danced) whilst they worked.
These sculptures were made from a base of branches to give the structural form. The sculptures are strengthened using wire before the shape is worked on further using grass, string and wool. Some have been oversewn with raffia or feathers. It was really painstaking work to add more detail and strength to each sculpture.
The sisters were each created by two artists so individually they take on different body shapes, colour and detail. Together, with their arms stretched above their heads, they are a beautiful representation of the sisters being ‘sucked into the sky’.
With thanks to the National Museum of Australia and the curators of 'Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters'.
Header image: Artists from Tjanpi Desert Weavers let their tjanpi sisters fly, Papulankutja, Western Australia, 2015 Image: Annieka Skinner, Tjanpi Desert Weavers