Manggan – gather, gathers, gathering

Located in Far North Queensland, the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre represents artists from nine Traditional Owner groups – the Nywaigi, Gugu Badhun, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Bandjin, Girramay, Gulnay, Jirrbal and Djiru people. ‘Manggan – gather, gathers, gathering’ brings together selected cultural objects drawn from the South Australian Museum collection, gathered from the Girringun region, and the work of 19 of these artists who transform traditional stories and culture into contemporary, visual images and designs using diverse media including painting, carving, ceramics, photographs and film; as well as textiles such as Jawun – a basket weaving style involving two horn-like pointed corners, unique to the region.

A traditional Jawun was utilised by the owner for a variety of purposes, including to carry babies, bush foods, and tools; catching fish; leaching toxins from poisonous plants; and mortuary purposes. They were also valuable objects that could be traded between communities.

‘One of my Jawun is included in this show. Beside the really beautiful Jawun which has been loaned from the South Australian Museum, my Jawun pales in comparison. Honed by thousands of years of craftsmanship, the old basket embodies the perfection of skill at the hand of the maker who learned their knowledge as a kind of apprenticeship. These baskets are not easy to make, and great skill is required to achieve such perfection. Despite its beauty of form and appearance, the use of the Jawun was not hindered from being used for menial tasks such as carrying heavy burdens or being exposed to the elements. Used in a traditional manner, the Jawun had a life expectancy of some two to three years. The one we see in this exhibition is over a hundred years old,’ said Abe Muriata, weaver and Girramay Traditional Owner from the Cardwell Range area.

Emily Murray, Theresa Beeron, Ninney Murray, Group of 3 Bagu (detail), ceramic and Lawyer cane, various sizes
Courtesy the artists, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, Queensland

The audience is welcomed by two large sculptures, standing at almost two metres high, with direct reference to the traditional Bagu form – a fire-making implement, found throughout the exhibition. The Bagu is an anthropomorphic representation of the fire creation spirit Jiggabunah, who would throw the Jiman (firesticks) across the sky and a trail of fire would follow, displayed in the night sky as shooting stars. While the contemporary Bagu can be made from any material, a number of the artists continue to paint their sculptures with traditional patterns, with permission, which, for Traditional Owners, are a form of identity and quite specific to different areas of the rainforest country. These objects were an important part of daily life for previous generations; fire was an essential commodity used for cooking, warmth, making traditional weapons, preserving and for ceremonies. It also provided a central point for social interaction and activities.

Artists include Daniel Beeron, George Beeron, Maureen Beeron, Theresa Beeron, Nancy Cowan, Nephi Denham, Sandra Escott, Tonya Grant, Judith Henry, Clarence Kinjun, Doris Kinjun, Abe Muriata, Alison Murray, Debra Murray, Emily Murray, John Murray, Ninney Murray, Sally Murray, and Eileen Tep.

In 2017 and 2018, the exhibition toured to regional galleries in Queensland, with New South Wales and Victoria hosting in 2019. Visiting South Australia in 2020, ‘Manggan – gather, gathers, gathering’ is currently on show at Nautilus Arts Centre until September, before heading to Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery in New South Wales and Caboolture Regional Gallery in Queensland.