12 October 2023

Fish Trap and the National Collection

It’s not every day you get a call from the National Gallery asking if your small town cultural centre would like to have a major sculpture from its collection. But about a month ago, that is exactly what happened here at Godinymayin when several curators and program officers from Canberra put feelers out. 

As part of their Sharing the National Collection initiative, and a greater focus on regional partnerships with smaller institutions, a new conversation began—all about Katherine becoming the new long-term home of a 12-meter aluminium sculpture based on an actual 1950s fish trap made in Maningrida. 

The massive public art object was made in 2010 in Brisbane by Urban Art Projects, following extensive consultation with Maningrida-based Indigenous artist and elder George Ganyjbala. The knowledge shared in their creative process—which also involved other Arnhem Land elders and extended family—resulted in a successful translation of distinctive and age-old weaving methods into stylised elements for modern and large-scale cast aluminium.

For the past decade, this major sculpture has been suspended inside the atrium of the National Gallery’s main entrance. Much like the humble tool of its origin, the aluminium fish trap became an iconic overhead presence that drew visitors into the gallery and wider collection.

And now, thanks to an ongoing dialogue with our new friends at the National Gallery of Australia, Godinymayin and Katherine could become the next home to this extraordinary work of art. But before we do that, there are many logistical challenges to solve. 

Where would we install such a large object? How will we keep it safe and guard it as a rare Northern Territory part of the National Collection? Will it require special weather protection? Would the 12-meter fish trap complement our future amphitheatre, outdoor deck, and cultural centre grounds? Could this remarkable sculpture greet our visitors and become something iconic within our region—a creative presence telling its own stories about culture and tradition in the Top End? 

There is much work to do before all the answers are known, and some of the challenges seem downright insurmountable. But when it comes to creative things and possibilities, I remain ever the optimist. And I am met with an equal amount of hope by our new partners in Canberra—who have their own mission to share meaningful objects and important art with more of Australia. 

After it’s original installation, the National Gallery’s Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Art, Franchesca Cubillo, described this unique sculpture in an interview with ABC’s Artworks program:  “The beautiful thing about fish traps is that there is movement that flows in and out of the fish traps, and it’s a flow of energy. Once materials enter into the fish trap, they come out changed. For us it was a wonderful way in which we could allow our visitors to come into these wonderful new galleries and flow through this beautiful space and go on a journey, but equally to come out different.”

And that thought, and the potential to engage other in meaningful ways—and bring something extraordinary to our community and its cultural centre—is why the Godinymayin team will keep this conversation going.  

— Eric Holowacz
Chief Executive Officer

In other news

Here are a few more news articles from Godinymayin that may interest you.