Australia 1907 – 1975
Paru, Melville Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Alice Wamba was one of a group of artists who lived at the small settlement of Paru on Melville Island. Located a short distance across the Apsley Strait, opposite the Catholic mission on Bathurst Island, the community at Paru was removed from the direct influences of the mission.
Bark baskets or tunga are traditionally made by women and they have a variety of uses, including to collect bush foods and to carry gifts for distribution among the dancers at the end of Pukumani burial ceremonies. In addition, the larger baskets, called yimwalini, are often placed over the tops of Pukumani poles during funerals.
Tunga are made from the bark of the stringy-bark tree, which is prised off the trunk in the wet season, cured over a fire then folded in half to create the shape of the basket. The edges of the bark are pierced with a sharpened wallaby bone and the sides are sewn together with strips of pandanus leaves or lawyer vine. Carrying handles may be attached to the baskets. The baskets are then painted with patterns and designs much in the same way that bark paintings are made. As with bark paintings, Tiwi artists rarely reveal the interpretations of these designs, preferring to adapt and innovate on a lexicon of traditional motifs.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010