Dórdbalk kómabba (everything’s good) is the story of revival and resilience. And of a family of women who work together day in day out, sharing the joys of making the artworks that share the stories of their world.
The COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 made the usual studio work of the Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida, on the pristine coastline of West Arnhemland, impossible. The women are known for exquisite textiles, hand screen, block and lino prints that tell the unique ancestral stories of their Arnhem Land Country and cultures. The printing is done in groups along long printing tables, and there was no way to work under the social distancing rules.
Paper and textas were introduced to ease back into work. The Art Centre is governed by women, for women, and these women wanted to have something to do, to continue to support themselves and their families. To maintain connection and purpose. And to have fun.
But the medium is not in and of itself new. Coloured fibre-tipped pens, pencils and crayons have long been used as part of the textile design process, to design the artwork that becomes the screens. Elizabeth Wullunmingu’s late mother, D. Gingingara, was also famous for texta drawings — her designs were used by Desert Designs in the early 1990s.
‘Mum made design of barramundi and emu… And she brought it back with her. And showed us [the family],’ Elizabeth Wullunmingu recalls.
And so, Elizabeth showed the rest of the ladies at Bábbarra, and they too took up using fibre-tipped texta pens to create a new range of colourful artworks. And like the fabric, the stories behind the drawings came from culture and tradition, and the daily life of West Arnhem Land.
During a time when the world was turned upside down, working on the bright coloured texta drawings made everyone feel good. And so Dórdbalk kómabba was born. It translates to ‘good / everything’ in Ndjébbana language, which is the language of the traditional owners of Maningrida.
Today, in June 2023, the studio is back to its vibrant self. Strong women, printing day in day out, telling stories, having tea and laughing.
But now when calm and independence is needed, the ladies sit by themselves, their creativity bursting to life as vibrant texta drawings. And by expanding an existing practice using learnings from artworks of long ago, an old idea has been made new again.