Tjanpi Desert Weavers is an esteemed Aboriginal Art collective that revitalises and celebrates the ancient weaving traditions of Aboriginal women from Central Australia via contemporary artworks.
L Iluwanti Ken with wagurnu grass she has collected near Ernabella. Photo by Rhett Hammerton, Copyright Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council.
R Molly Yates. Photo by Rhett Hammerton, Copyright Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a remarkable social enterprise operating under the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council, dedicated to supporting women in remote Central and Western desert regions. These women earn income through the creation of contemporary fiber art. Tjanpi, which means "grass" in Pitjantjatjara language, represents a vast network of over 400 Anangu/Yarnangu women artists from 26 remote communities across the NPY lands.
The NPY lands encompass a vast area of approximately 350,000 square kilometers, stretching across the tri-state (WA, SA, NT) border region of Central Australia. Tjanpi field officers regularly travel throughout this expansive region, visiting each community to engage with the artists. During these visits, field officers purchase artworks, supply art materials, facilitate skills development workshops, and assist with grass collection. Collecting grass not only serves as a vital resource for creating fiber art but also provides an opportunity for women to connect with their land, practice cultural traditions such as gathering food and hunting, participate in inma (cultural song and dance performances), and pass on cultural knowledge to their children.
Tjanpi artists employ native grasses to craft stunning contemporary fiber art, including intricately woven baskets and sculptures. Their creations showcase boundless creativity and innovation. The art form evolved from the traditional practice of making manguri rings, and working with fiber in this manner has become deeply ingrained in Central and Western desert culture.
Tjanpi embodies the energy, rhythm, and spirit of Country, culture, and community. The shared stories, skills, and experiences within this extensive network of mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters, and grandmothers form the foundation of the desert weaving phenomenon, fueling Tjanpi's rich history of collaborative practice.
In Alice Springs, Tjanpi maintains a public gallery where visitors can explore and appreciate a diverse range of artworks, including baskets, sculptures, jewelry, books, and merchandise. Additionally, Tjanpi artworks are available here, https://artark.com.au/collections/aboriginal-desert-weavings. The collective frequently exhibits their works in national galleries and also facilitates commissioned projects for public institutions.
L Installation view, Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2021 featuring Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
R Finished artwork in Warakurna, Western Australia. Photo by Thisbe Purich, Copyright Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council.
One artist, Kanytjupayi Benson from Papulankutja, Western Australia, highlights the significance of the weaving practice not only as a means of income but also as a way to impart cultural knowledge to younger generations. During grass-collecting expeditions, she explains, "It's good for young women too. We can show them the sacred sites, special grass, and the best time to go and get them. We can tell stories while we're collecting the grass and making the baskets."
Through its dedication to cultural preservation, economic empowerment, and community engagement, Tjanpi Desert Weavers has become a vital force in celebrating the talent, resilience, and cultural heritage of Indigenous women in the desert regions of Central Australia.
Tjanpi Toyota, 2005. Photo by Thisbe Purich; copyright Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women’s Council
Here are some key dates in the evolution of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers Aboriginal Art Initiative.
Foundation and Early Years (1995-2000): Tjanpi Desert Weavers emerged as a community-driven initiative in 1995, initiated by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council. With a vision to provide employment opportunities for women in remote desert communities, the art collective began to teach and revive traditional weaving techniques, empowering women through economic independence and the preservation of cultural knowledge.
Establishment of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers Art Centre (2000): In the year 2000, the Tjanpi Desert Weavers Art Centre was officially established. This milestone marked the growth and recognition of the art collective as a professional art center, enabling a sustainable platform for artists to develop and exhibit their intricate woven artworks.
Cultural Significance of Fiber Art: The fiber artworks created by Tjanpi Desert Weavers hold deep cultural significance for the participating communities. Weaving is a traditional skill passed down through generations, connecting women to their ancestors, country, and Dreaming stories. The artworks often incorporate traditional patterns, natural materials, and colors inspired by the surrounding desert landscapes.
Artistic Collaboration and Innovation: Tjanpi Desert Weavers encourages artistic collaboration and innovation. The art center provides a space for artists to experiment with contemporary designs, materials, and techniques while maintaining the integrity of traditional weaving practices. This fusion of traditional and contemporary elements results in unique and visually captivating artworks.
Economic Empowerment and Community Development: Tjanpi Desert Weavers has made a significant impact on the participating communities by providing economic empowerment and fostering community development. The art center offers a sustainable income source for women, improving their financial well-being and providing opportunities for skill development and capacity building.
Cultural Preservation and Revitalisation: The work of Tjanpi Desert Weavers plays a crucial role in preserving and revitalising traditional weaving practices. By passing on weaving techniques, stories, and cultural knowledge to younger generations, the art collective ensures the continuity of this ancient art form and strengthens cultural identity within the community.
National and International Recognition: Over the years, Tjanpi Desert Weavers has gained national and international recognition for its exceptional artworks. The art center's woven creations have been exhibited in major galleries and museums worldwide, contributing to the broader appreciation and understanding of Indigenous fiber art and culture.
Community Workshops and Outreach Programs: Tjanpi Desert Weavers actively engages with the community through workshops, outreach programs, and community-based projects. These initiatives provide opportunities for skill-sharing, cultural exchange, and intergenerational learning. They also foster a sense of pride and cultural connection among the weavers and the wider community.
Environmental Sustainability: Tjanpi Desert Weavers prioritises environmental sustainability in its artistic practices. The art center promotes the use of natural and locally sourced materials, emphasising the importance of sustainable harvesting and respecting the delicate balance of the desert ecosystem.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is an esteemed art collective that revitalises and celebrates the ancient weaving traditions of Aboriginal women from Central Australia via contemporary artworks. Through its commitment to cultural preservation, economic empowerment, and artistic innovation, Tjanpi Desert Weavers has created a lasting impact on the participating communities, while gaining national and international recognition for its exceptional fibre artworks.