6 June 2024

- 20 July 2024

Yir (Dilly Bags)

Numbulwar's Numburindi artists shape ghost nets into intricate Yir (dilly bags)
Category: Weaving

Experience the enduring creativity of Numbulwar’s Numburindi artists, as they shape ghost nets into intricate Yir. This vibrant exhibition reflects resilience from the past while embracing the present, seamlessly blending tradition with innovation. Join us as we celebrate Numbulwar’s playful approach to exploring new materials and techniques.

Yulki Nunggumajbarr remembers the days before the mission was established at Numbulwar in 1952. People used to go hunting for dugong, turtle, fish, crab, lily root and so on, and everything was collected up in a string bag laboriously hand made from bark. The bark was pounded into fibres, twisted into long strands, dyed with local flora, and expertly manipulated into sturdy, functional and exceptionally beautiful bags. The yir also had a spiritual significance to Nunggayinbala people, said to be totemic objects associated with particular sites in the landscape and containers of knowledge.

The yir, or dilly bags, being produced at Numbulwar today from abandoned fishing nets, known as ‘ghost nets’, certainly contain echoes of those string bags from the old days. The gentle repetition of loops and knots draws an immediate comparison to traditional iterations. The yir are bound together using equally compelling found materials – brightly coloured bits of wool, thin copper wire, nylon, and sometimes the laborious, ancestral handmade bark string – a Wunderkammer that hints at contemporary life in the remote outpost of South East Arnhem Land. Natural dyeing is replaced with brightly coloured acrylic paint, although it still communicates culturally significant colours and designs.

The impact of ghost nets is felt along the entire coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria, from Nhulunbuy to Weipa. Ranger groups and shipping vessels frequently haul in ‘monster’ nets, sometimes up to six kilometres long. However, oceanic currents continue to bring nets thousands of kilometres into the Gulf, where they harm reefs and totemic sea life such as dugongs and turtles. Retrieving the ghost nets and other found materials from land and sea is hard work, but serves as a modern act of caring for Country for Nunggayinbala people.

Numburindi artists were celebrated for their work using ghost nets at Melbourne Design Week 2023. In 2021, the yir made their runway debut at Country to Couture, where some of the various traditional ways of carrying yir were demonstrated, with the string across the forehead and the bag draped down the back, or the string around the neck and the bag down the chest to keep the hands free while foraging for food.

Numbulwar’s yir fit as naturally in traditional applications as they do in contemporary, urban environments. Demonstrating the unbroken resourcefulness and expert manipulation of locally available materials by Numburindi people, they also speak to stories from the here and now. Some of the works in this exhibition respond to the Black Summer bushfires, a tragedy that was felt even in the most remote corners of Australia. The artists employ interesting textures, stitching, shapes, mixed media and figurative details to narrate and depict life at Numbulwar, including much of the traditional way of life that continues into the present day, such as hunting and ceremonial rituals. Playful proportions, an openness to new materials and techniques, and confident execution are the signature trademarks of Numburindi artists.

Join us and immerse yourself in this exhibition from 6 June to 20 July 2024.

Opening Reception: Thursday 6 June 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Yir – Lillian Joshua

Yir – Megan Wilfred

Yir – Joy Wilfred Bundoola

Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre’s exhibition and gallery sales are bound by consignment agreements developed with Arts Law Centre of Australia. We follow ethical standards and practices when dealing with Aboriginal art and artists.

For more information, please contact the Centre on (08) 8972 3751 or visit https://indigenousartcode.org/how-to-buy-ethically/.

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