Textile design empowers Australian Indigenous women


In a remote Indigenous community at the top end of Australia a textile boom is taking place. The designs produced are in demand nationally and internationally—but there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
It’s a story of women from more than 12 language groups in the Maningrida region who gather to share knowledge and ideas through art, design and textile production. They gather on their country, in their space – at Bábbarra Women’s Centre, home to multiple social enterprises governed by women for women.
After work I go home and talk about my printing with all my family, and then I dream about it too. I am always thinking about my new designs.
One of those enterprises is textile studio Bábbarra Designs. This is women’s business—the women design, print and sew products on site, in their community. It’s an opportunity for women to be creative and financially independent, supporting themselves and the community for generations to come.
“The money we get from Bábbarra helps us buy food for our kids,” says Lucy Yarawanga, an artist from the Gurr-goni language group—one of the least commonly spoken languages in Arnhem Land. Like all of the artists at Bábbarra, Lucy references her ancestral stories in her work.
“I feel good waking up in the morning, knowing I am going to Bábbarra for the day,” says Lucy. “After work I go home and talk about my printing with all my family, and then I dream about it too. I am always thinking about my new designs.”
Since 1983, generations of women have worked together in the studio, passing down stories and techniques. “When I first printed, it was a little bit messy,” says Lucy. “After that they were teaching me and I watched. But now, this time, I do it good way and I’m happy. I’m happy with my family here.”
During the day the printing studio is a hive of activity. The women print along a nine-meter table using multiple silk screens. It takes two women to print a screen and one length of fabric can take a whole day to complete. They also use linocut techniques to print designs, making each textile piece a limited edition. Drawings are transferred to linoleum tiles and chiseled outdoors. They are printed using up to four colors to tell ancient stories of country, land and sea.
Maningrida, the land of these stories, is a remote Indigenous community in the heart of Arnhem Land, on the North Central coast of Australia. It has a population of around 2,500 and is home to some of the country’s most well-known artists.
The women of Bábbarra cite these creative roots as the source of their flair for design. They are innovative in their use of bold colors and forms providing the marketplace with an unprecedented range of textiles.
Designs vary from artist to artist. Some carry on the legacy of Arnhem Land painting, others have developed bolder patterns, but they all have one thing in common—an important story to tell of their country, their land and their sea passed down from their ancestors.
For more information visit https://babbarra.com.