Meet Margaret Rarru – weaver and painter

Artist Margaret Rarru says that she was a young teenager when she first started to weave at Galawin’ku, on Elcho Island with her aunties. Rarru sat down with her numa (aunties) and the balanda (white) ladies from the mission at Galawin’ku learnt weaving from them.

Many generations of Rarru’s ancestor’s have made bathi (dilly bags) for ceremony and every day use. The missionaries taught Rarru and her aunties how to make coil baskets and set up a shop where they could take their weavings and be given money in return. These weaving were  bought by museums and private collectors all over the world. Rarru says that at first she made plain baskets then she started changing them – adding colour, changing there shape, thinking about how to make them more beautiful.

When Rarru wants a rest from weaving she paints. As she was growing up her fathers taught her the stories for her clan and their country and the painting designs that belonged to them. Today Rarru continues to paint her fathers clan designs on bark and hollow logs using ochre harvested from the rocky areas along the beach. In 2007 Rarru won the bark painting category at the Telstar Aboriginal Art Awards. As well as painting her fathers clan designs Rarru also paints womens bush stories.

She says there are diramull (too many) womens bush stories. Rarru whispers this incase any men are in ears distance. Rarru explains that these paintings are for teaching the young girls all the many womens bush stories. Rarru creates weavings wherever she is! She says that mostly she sits near the salt water at Yurrwi (Milingimbi) or Langarra (her mothers homeland) and does her weaving there. If Rarru has to travel to visit family or for ceremony or funeral she packs up all her weaving things and takes them with her. Rarru says that she would be sad and bored if she didn’t have her weaving materials with her.

When Rarru isn’t weaving she is collecting gunga (pandanus) and balgurr (bark for making string). The gunga is striped of its spines that run along its edges, peeled in half, dried in the sun and dyed in a pot over a fire with roots, leaves and other natural materials depending on what colour is being created. Once dyed the gunga is dried again before it is then used for weaving. Rarru says that she doesn’t have a favourite medium or material she just loves weaving – ‘making baskets makes me happy’.

Rarru’s weaving practice stands out for two reasons her designs are at once fun and joyful whilst also sophisticated. The bathi mul exemplifies Rarru’s outstanding understanding of form. The gunga when dyed black has a warm hue that shines giving an illusive yet solid feel. Rarru explains that she loves making bathi mul (black dilly bag) because ‘black is beautiful.’ When asked about where the idea for making her Madonna Bra and Bag series Rarru replies that the idea came to her when she was weaving and thinking about the different things she could make.

Margaret has a busy schedule of exhibitions including the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Fashion Show 2017, Walma / Moon Rise – Koskela Gallery 2017, and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art – Asia Pacific Triennial 2018.