RARRU, Margaret; GANALMIRRIWUY, Helen;
Mindirr are ancient basket forms said to be carried by the ancestral Djan’kawu sisters on their creative journeys across Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy’s mindirr are made in the classical conical shape; however, in a contemporary take on the form, the women have dyed the twined pandanus leaves a dense charcoal–black, highlighing subtle gradations of colour and emphasising irregular surface patterns reflecting the handmade process.
As Margaret Rarru has stated:
Baskets, mats and dilly bags are woven from pandanus. We prepare the leaves and dye them with the bark of a plant called guninyi, which creates both the yellow colour and a red/brown colour when ashes from the fire mix with the yellow liquid. The black/brown we make by boiling plants gathered from the bush on Yurrwi (Milingimbi).
The closely guarded recipe for making the rare black dye was discovered through constant experimentation, and is used to emphasise the iconic lines of the baskets.
Bark Paintings and Larrakitj
Helen Ganalmirriwuy’s barks and larrakitj (hollow log memorial poles) are painted in distinctive red (miku), white (gamunungu) and yellow (buthjalak) earth pigments, in variations on Liyagawumirr–Garrawurra miny’tji (clan designs). The striped patterns are called djirrididi and can stand for many things: the darting azure kingfisher; the slanting rays of the sunrise; the shadows of the sunset; and the sacred body designs worn at men's Ngarra ceremonies, held for funerals and to celebrate regeneration and renewal.
In the words of anthropologist Howard Morphy:
It was a ritual to celebrate the final separation of the soul from the body and its return to the spirit world, but it was also a process of reaffirming the ancestral connections that were manifest in the person's life.
Other designs trace the tracks of bowarta (bush turkey), or map, in circles and lines, freshwater springs made by the ancestral Djan’kawu sisters on their creative journeys across Arnhem Land. The sisters’ journeys created life, language and culture as they travelled, their bodies painted with the broad striped pattern still used today.