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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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Erub Mer people

Cairns, Queensland, Australia born 1987

Gaba Gaba 2014 Place made: Erub (Darnley Island), Torres Strait Island, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, ceramics, cane and resin on ceramic

Dimensions: overall (approx.) 37.0 h x 16.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation ATSI Fund 2015
Accession No: NGA 2015.522.A-B
  • Many Indigenous artists look to the past to celebrate, honour and commemorate their connection with their culture and their ancestors. This connectedness can manifest itself in many ways, sometimes depicting ancient mythological narratives while other times referencing historic artefacts. These works by young Erub (Darnley Island) painter, printer and ceramicist Jimmy Thaiday do the latter; they are life-sized ceramic replicas of gaba gabas, stone-headed war clubs used by Torres Strait Islander warriors during battle.

    There is much anthropological speculation as to the origin of these remarkably dangerous weapons because historical ethnographic accounts note that the stones themselves were quarried in the Torres Strait, in Cape York Peninsula and in Papua New Guinea. It is argued, then, that the gaba gaba was a significantly valuable item and was created, traded and even looted by many cultural groups across this expansive geographical region of the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea. It was also a prized ceremonial object.

    These contemporary interpretations in ceramic, natural fibres and resin nod to the original deadly purpose of the weapon. The several handmade resin skulls—hanging provocatively from the top of one club and around the handle of the other—make this purpose clear: they were historically used to maim and decapitate an enemy in battle. Thaiday’s exquisite ceramics stand as eloquent reminders of both sacred and profane aspects of a Torres Strait Islander way of life that once was.

    Franchesca Cubillo, Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

    in artonview, issue 83, Spring 2015