Women with Clever Hands past and present

22 August 2013 - 2 March 2014

Curated by Dr Louise Hamby

A dazzling array of fibre objects from Arnhem Land form the new exhibition Women with Clever Hands past and present at the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. Hats suitable for the Melbourne Cup, handbags for shopping expeditions and feathered bodywear for ceremony are all to be found here with mats, baskets, string bags and a small menagerie of animal sculptures.

This exhibition with its emphasis on the tactility of making follows the recent exhibitions Musical Landscapes of Lihir and the visually complex In the red; on the vibrancy of things.

Arnhem Land is home for many clan groups from Kunwinjku in the west to Mara in the southeast, each expressing their identities through fibre work. The majority of the works in this exhibition were made by artists living in the communities east of Maningrida towards Yirrkala. Two-thirds of the objects originate from Lake Evella or Gapuwiyak; these are contemporary works made during the last fifteen years.

Alongside these newer works are older pieces  from the Anthropology Museum’s Foundation Donation of items from L. P. Winterbotham's personal collection.  Here are things that reference the practices that were in place before missions began their work in Arnhem Land.  Ochred finely twined pandanus baskets with their hand-spun string handles and rounded bottoms reference an era when Aboriginal people considered the skill necessary to make them, and the time expended, as a normal part of daily life. There are also delicate feathered objects, such as armbands, still being made today for ceremonial purposes. The remainder of the included works from the Anthropology Museum’s collection come from a landmark exhibition curated by Djon Mundine in 1981 which showcased art work from the Dhuwa and Yirritja moieties of Milingimbi.

UQ Anthropology Museum and Louise Hamby collections

View full photo gallery on Flickr:  Women with Clever Hands past and present


Thanks to the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science and the School of Social Science, to Lucy Wanapuyngu and Penny Wanapuyngu and Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Aboriginal Corporation.

Exhibition concept and design: Louise Hamby and Diana Young
Curation: Louise Hamby
Installation and exhibition development: Jane Willcock, Kiri Chan, Charla Strelan and Camella Hardjo
Conservation: Kate Stanway 

The original Women with Clever Hands was created with Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

Banner image: Women with Clever Hands: Past and Present 2013, UQ Anthropology Museum
Teaser image: Penny Milngu Wanapuyngu twining an animal, 2009, photo by Louise Hamby