native grasses, found fencing wire, aviary mesh, textile, acrylic pilow stuffing, yarn, string, twine, raffia, plastic bagging, feathers, wool, tree branches, foam, piping
7 parts, dimensions variable
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2013
Seven Sisters was made by seven women of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers collective during a weaving bush camp. Led by Ilawanti Ungutjuru Ken, who decided who would make which sister, they coiled and bound grass, raffia, fencing wire, feathers and wool into figures that are part-tree, part-woman. Their sculptures manifest the story of the seven sisters, an important songline in the Central and Western deserts. In this story, the seven sisters of the Pleiades star cluster are chased by a man, the morning star, who is pursuing the eldest sister. But he is of the wrong skin group, so she is protected from him by her younger sisters.
In Central Australia, where these woven sculptures were made, the Pleiades star cluster rises soon after sunset and keeps a low trajectory on the horizon. This proximity between sky and earth is reflected in the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ work, which are made from native grasses (tjanpi) and materials found in the desert to create forms which appear both rooted in the red soil and reaching for the heavens.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a not-for-profit Indigenous social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council. They collaboratively produce woven works ranging from baskets to life-size figures of animals, people and objects. Their life-sized sculpture of a Toyota car won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2005. The Anangu women of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers are traditionally skilled carvers, making bowls, utensils and sacred articles in wood. They were introduced to coiled basketry in 1995, and their experimental practice has grown to incorporate different materials and to narrate ancestral stories, such as seven sisters, in large-scale figure installations. The women of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers collaborate through camping, hunting, cooking and weaving together to find new and powerful ways to communicate their culture and ancestral stories. Using grasses and materials harvested from their desert country, they tell the stories of the land and its starry sky above, where the seven sisters are eternally chased by the morning star.
We like working with the grasses that grow on our land. The land inspires us to make things. We have been making trees and we loved them so much, but we also had set our hearts on creating the Seven Sisters. Because the Seven Sisters came from the land itself, we decided that we wanted them to resemble trees because they are so closely associated with the land. They have breasts, though, these tree-like women.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers, 2013
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a not-for-profit social enterprise of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC), an Aboriginal governed and directed Corporation. NPYWC members created Tjanpi (meaning ‘grass’) to enable women on the NPY Lands to earn a regular income from selling their fibre art. More than 300+ Aboriginal women artists from 28 remote communities in the western and central deserts of Australia come together on country to create beautiful, intricate and whimsical fibre art. Tjanpi provides one of the few opportunities for self-initiated income on the NPY Lands and brings Aboriginal women together on country to collect grass, sculpt and weave, sing and dance and keep culture strong.
Established in 1995 by Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council; NPY Lands, Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.
Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara language groups
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a not-for-profit Indigenous social enterprise of the NPY Women’s Council, a resource, advocacy and support organisation for Aboriginal women living in remote communities across the Western and Central deserts. It was created out of a need for meaningful and culturally appropriate employment and to enable women to earn a regular income from selling their fibre art.
Tjanpi (meaning ‘grass’) supports the production and marketing of baskets, sculptures and seed jewellery made by more than 400 artists from 28 remote communities and builds on a long tradition of working with natural fibres to create objects for daily and ceremonial use. Aboriginal women regularly come together on country to collect grass, sculpt and weave, sing and dance and keep culture strong while creating beautiful, intricate and expressive fibre art.
Made primarily from a combination of native desert grasses, seeds and feathers, commercially bought raffia (sometimes dyed with native plants), string and wool, Tjanpi artworks are unique, innovative and constantly evolving. Tjanpi has an extensive exhibition program and is represented in national and international public and private art collections. In 2005 Tjanpi was awarded the 22nd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for their collaborative piece, Tjanpi grass Toyota, made by 18 women from Papulankutja.Learn more