Tjanpi Desert Weavers is an Indigenous governed and directed social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. Tjanpi (meaning wild harvested grass) began in 1995 as a series of basket-making workshops facilitated by NPY Women’s Council in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of WA. Women wanted meaningful and culturally appropriate employment on their homelands to better provide for their families. Building upon a long history of using natural fibres to make objects for ceremonial and daily use, the women quickly took to coiled basketry and were soon sharing their new-found skills with relatives and friends on neighbouring communities. It was not long before Tjanpi artists began experimenting with producing sculptural forms, and today Tjanpi supports over 400 women across three states (NT, SA and WA) to make spectacular contemporary fibre art.
During March 2020, on the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Tjanpi artists came together to create Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters). Working side by side, the artists drew on their cultural knowledge to make eight woven figures representing the seven sisters and Wati Nyiru (or Yurla, as he is known in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands) and a large woven dome referencing the Pleiades star cluster. The Seven Sisters is an epic ancestral story that has an important underlying teaching element, reinforcing law and cultural knowledge. It follows the journey of seven sisters as they are pursued across Country by Wati Nyiru/Yurla, who is chasing the eldest sister. The sisters constantly try to evade their pursuer, leaving traces of their journey in the landscape. In an attempt to escape they eventually launch themselves into the sky, transforming into the stars that form the Pleiades. Wati Nyiru/Yurla follows and becomes the Orion constellation. The retelling and depiction of this story relays important information on kinship and connection to cultural sites.
This artwork explores the narrative from the perspective of artists from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands and the songline centres on a cave site at Wanarn in Western Australia where the Seven Sisters hide in an effort to escape their pursuer.
- The Seven Sisters songlines are among the most significant of the extensive creation tracks that traverse Australia. Songlines trace astronomical and geographical elements, connecting sacred sites and telling ancestral stories. On the National Museum of Australia’s Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters webpage, watch the digital dome Travelling Kungkarangkalpa Art Experience to hear the story of the Seven Sisters. After watching the video, discuss your observations, thoughts and questions. Explore the Seven Sisters interactive micro-site to learn more.
- Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ Seven Sisters installation is woven from materials including tjanpi (the Pitjantjatjara word for grass) and raffia. Take some time to look at this work of art from different angles. What aspects of the installation stand out most to you and what are you curious about?
- Watch the Tjanpi Desert Weavers creating art on Country in ICTV’s video. What motivates the Tjanpi Desert Weavers to make their work? What elements of their art-making process looks challenging or exciting to you?
- Weave your own raffia basket using the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ video tutorial and step-by-step instructions. Learn to Weave kits are available online, or you can start with materials that you already have. After learning how to make a basket, look at the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ innovative sculptures and animations. Brainstorm ideas for shapes and forms that you would like to attempt to make using your new weaving skills.