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Margaret Rarru · 'Black is Beautiful'

Creative People

Today our Indigenous Art columnists, Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti of Willie Weston, introduce Margaret Rarru Garrawurra, an accomplished weaver and artist hailing from Langarra (Howard Island) and Yurrwi (Milingimbi Island).

A Madonna fan, Margaret is famous in some circles for her Madonna Bra and Bag series, inspired by the singer’s 1980s video clips!

The artist is currently exhibiting her incredible bathi mul (black dilly bags) as part of the ‘Walma / Moon Rise’ showcase  at Koskela in Sydney.

3rd August, 2017

Weaver and artist Margaret Rarru. Photo – Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Rarru is famous in some circles for her Madonna Bra and Madonna Bag series, inspired by Madonna’s 1980s video clips! Photo – Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Margaret Rarru’s bathi mul (black dilly bags) on the beach of Milingimbi Island. Photo – Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Installation view of ‘Walma / Moon Rise’ at Koskela Gallery, Sydney. (L-R): Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 34 x 21cm; Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 29 x 17cm; Margaret Rarru, Bathi mul, pandanus fibre, bush string and natural dyes, 30 x 17cm. All works courtesy Milingimbi Art and Culture. Photo – courtesy of Koskela.

A Yothu Bathi (baby basket) by Margaret Rarru. Photo – Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Robin Galitjbirr and Sonya Djndjarrngu modelling Rarru’s incredible Madonna Bras and Bags! Photo – Milingimbi Art and Culture.

Jessica Booth and Laetitia Prunetti
Thursday 3rd August 2017

Margaret Rarru Garrawurra – or Rarru, as she’s known around her home of Milingimbi – reckons she was ‘a good-sized yothu (kid / teenager)’ when she first started to weave. Rarru sat down with her Ngama (Mother) and Mukul (aunties) and learnt to make the bathi (dilly bags) that generations of women have produced across Arnhem Land. At the time, she was living at the mission on Elcho Island, and was also taught coil basketry by the balanda (white) ladies there. Throughout her career, she has effortlessly incorporated both these techniques into her practice.

These days, Rarru lives between Langarra (Howard Island) and Yurrwi (Milingimbi Island), around 400 kilometres east of Darwin. As well as being a masterful weaver, she is also an acclaimed painter. In 2007, she was awarded the bark painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and a number of her paintings are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Queensland Art Gallery.

When Rarru isn’t weaving she’s collecting gunga (pandanus) and balgurr (bark for making string). The gunga is stripped of its prickly edges, peeled in half, dried in the sun, and dyed in a pot over a fire with roots, leaves or other natural materials, depending on the colour being created. Once dyed, the gunga is dried again before it is ready to be woven. When dyed black, the gunga has a beautiful, warm charcoal tone, which is characteristic of Rarru’s incredible bathi mul (black dilly bags).

Rarru has gained international recognition for her bathi mul, created with this natural dyed black gunga. These works ‘exemplify Rarru’s outstanding understanding of form,’ says Rosita Holmes, Studio Coordinator at Milingimbi Art and Culture. The bathi mul demonstrate Rarru’s sophisticated, minimalist design aesthetic, whilst being contemporary manifestations of an enduring weaving practice. Rarru says she loves making bathi mul because ‘black is beautiful’. We couldn’t agree more.

Margaret Rarru is busy! She is currently exhibiting as part of Walma / Moon Rise at Koskela Gallery, Sydney (29 July – 27 August 2017), will be Milingimbi Art and Culture’s feature artist at this year’s Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (11-13 August 2017) and has work in upcoming exhibitions at the Embassy of Australia, Washington DC, USA, Wooloongabba Art Gallery, Queensland and the University of NSW Gallery, Sydney.

Thanks to Rosita Holmes, Chris Durkin and Helen Milminydjarrk for their assistance with this piece.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net