Selling Yarns 2

Innovation for sustainability



Recoiling the past for the future

Session: Mentoring between communities Friday 6 March 2009 10:40 12:05pm

Margie West

Emeritus Curator of Aboriginal Art, Museum and Art Gallery of the Norther Territory


The ReCoil fibre exhibition highlights the relatively unknown history of the coiling fibre movement in Australia. This includes the traditional use of coiled basketry among many Indigenous groups living along Murray/Darling River, the transference of this technique by missionaries to the remote north of Arnhem Land and more recently, its introduction to many desert communities via workshops and engagement between Indigenous and other Australian fibre artists. This on-going process of inter-cultural and Indigenous exchange has resulted in the efflorescence of coiling across vast regions of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia. In its place of origin, the southeast regions of Australia, coiling has been revived and reinterpreted by a number of artists through an array of both traditional and innovative forms, examples of which are profiled in the show.

The introduction of European-style coiled basketry into the rich extant fibre traditions of the remote north in the 1920s, has been seen as a potential act of cultural conversion /assimilation. It could be argued by extension, that the continued introduction of coiled basketry into other Aboriginal communities by non-Indigenous artist/agents furthers this agenda. Yet the agency of the women in embracing and spreading the coiling technique while establishing small successful economies based upon this skill, suggests a different story about Indigenous resilience and incorporation.

However, despite the apparent success of coiled basketry, there are potential challenges to the long-term suitability this fibre practice in some regions, including the attraction of the more lucrative visual arts market and even the impact of global warming. Whether or not these influences will interrupt the successful trajectory of coiled basketry is not yet known. The challenge is how to support and encourage artists to engage in such time consuming techniques in an increasingly competitive global economy.

See also: Margie West's biography