What really got the weavers going was thinking about the nature of eagles, how they care for their families. They were camped not far from Amata, the home community for several of them, in the APY Lands of South Australia's far north and were working on a commission from Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.
Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton's husband would come along to the camp every day and bring the women meat, including the favoured bush turkey. They ate the flesh and used the feathers in their weaving. Nyurpaya would think her husband was just like an eagle that goes out hunting meat for his whole family.
Hunting is what the eagle does best, he is an expert hunter and great provider – that's what the women like about eagles, what they admire in them.
"Our good men are just like the good eagles, they bring the meat home."
Several of the Tjanpi weavers travelled into Alice Springs, to speak at a forum on Monday about experimentation and innovation in desert arts. The presence of a skilled translator, Linda Rive, and the stimulus of a slide show that documented their artists' camp and the development of the work, allowed them to relate in rich detail their experience of this commission, with the final work currently showing at Tandanya.
What was particularly compelling was to hear about the thinking behind the work: their woven birds are much more than objects to delight the eye. They draw on the strength of their ancient culture and its lessons for everyday living, perhaps never so poignantly relevant as now.
KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured, top: Tjanpi weavers from Amata with their finished 'big birds', from left Nyurpaya Kaika, Yaritji Young, Paniny Mick (obscured), Ilawanti Ken and Naomi Kantjuriny. • At right: An eagle brings home the meat for its young. Painting by Ilawanti Ken. Photos courtesy Tjanpi Desert Weavers.