Jarracharra: where aboriginal art and Indian block printing collaborate

Jarracharra, an exhibition of Australian indigenous textile art, is on display in Bengaluru

Updated - May 19, 2023 01:08 pm IST

Published - May 19, 2023 11:44 am IST

Some of the exhibits at Jarracharra

Some of the exhibits at Jarracharra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

People around the world are different and yet everywhere they are the same. Just as the Indian methods of block printing from Rajasthan, which were preserved over generations and revived, so too artisans from Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida, the far north of Australia, have endeavoured to preserve their traditional methods and patterns of printing.

The Bábbarra Women’s Centre comprise members from Australia’s First Nations people, a term which refers to aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have been part of the country’s cultural landscape for over 65,000 years. The Centre has been helping aboriginal women from Maningrida community “develop and run women-centred enterprises that support healthy and sustainable livelihoods,” since 1987.

One of the wood blocks at Jarracharra

One of the wood blocks at Jarracharra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When artisans from the Bábbarra Women’s Centre visited the Tharangini studio in Bengaluru in early 2023, they were introduced to different, more lasting methods of block printing. Traditionally, aboriginal artisans would carve designs on lino blocks. “Lino is a byproduct of linoleum and tends to disintegrate over time. As a result, a lot of ancient artworks created by elders in the tribe were lost or vanishing and they were on the lookout for methods to preserve these patterns for posterity,” says Padmini Govind, a partner at Tharangini Studio in Bengaluru.

Artisans at Tharangini, a heritage textile handcraft studio, spent over three months translating Bábbarra’s traditional designs into hand-carved woodblocks, and, as a result, they co-created textiles that merged Indian woodblock carving and indigenous Australian designs. Apart from learning the fine points of block carving, the artisans from Babbarra also learnt the nuances of mixing natural dyes and printing at Tharangini.

Padmini Govind and the artisans from Tharangini who were a part of this project

Padmini Govind and the artisans from Tharangini who were a part of this project | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

While the hope of future collaborations gleam on the horizon, there is a certain balance to be maintained. According to Maningrida community beliefs, some of the designs and patterns are sacred and could be replicated or drawn only by select members. “While translating these patterns onto woodcut, we wanted to ensure we had done justice and given respect to the work entrusted to us,” says Padmini.

For Sarah Kirlew, Australian Consul General for South India, “The exhibition is a chance to engage with a part of Australia, which not many people know about. It’s become increasingly important to proactively tell our First Nation stories. First Nation culture is an important part of our modern national identity and we are engaged in a process of national reconciliation.”

Sarah Kirlew, Australian Consul General for South India

Sarah Kirlew, Australian Consul General for South India | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Traditionally, indigenous art was done on rock using natural ochres or in the sand as a form of storytelling, eventually moving to bark and, later, textiles as a way of expressing those stories,” says Sarah.

“While a lot of things about indigenous design resonate with an Indian audience, particularly the use of colour, it is also important that these designs are maintained by their traditional owners as they are symbols with a spiritual meaning. This is why we only encourage indigenous art to be done by indigenous people.”

One of the exhibits at Jarracharra

One of the exhibits at Jarracharra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Today, lay persons or people of non-Aboriginal origin can work in collaboration with indigenous artists to reproduce prints as long as the design can be traced back to the original owners.

Titled Jarracharra, which is a dry season wind of northern Australia, the exhibition was displayed in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, before coming to Bengaluru. The exhibition is presented by the Australian Consulate-General for South India and the Bengaluru edition was curated by Anshu Arora and Prithi Pais.

Jarracharra will be on display at Bangalore International Centre till May 25.

Anshu Arora

Anshu Arora | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One of the wood blocks used at Jarracharra

One of the wood blocks used at Jarracharra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One of the wood blocks used at Jarracharra

One of the wood blocks used at Jarracharra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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