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Fourth in our series is Jessica Phillips from Bábbarra Women's Centre - a centre that enables local women to develop healthy and sustainable livelihoods.

Governed by women for women, the centre supports Aboriginal women in the Maningrida community and in surrounding homelands, which includes a textile workshops specialising in hand-printed fabric designs. The Bábbarra Women's Centre recognises that Indigenous women are among the most marginalised and disadvantaged social groups, and are extremely economically vulnerable - so the centre aims to teach women in the region how to generate sustainable incomes in meaningful ways.

We chatted to Jessica Phillips from the centre to discuss how women are empowered at the centre, and why building sustainable skills and habits is so important.

[TLSE] Tell me a little bit about the Bábbarra Women’s Centre. What does it offer the community and how has it grown?

[Jessica] We have about 15-20 women, including senior women, working in the different areas of printing. The ladies do linocut and screen printing using multi layers of colours. The ladies love working here, very productive centre there is almost no room and we are growing. The women share their stories on fabric. Their designs use traditional cross hatching painting, contemporary, complex, or simple designs showcasing their unique cultural history. Our designs are sold both nationally and globally.

What started as a women refuge centre 33-34 years ago for families and women activities has grown into one of NT leading indigenous textile centres. It offers women and their families an income, a place for women from up to eight different language groups in the community to come together in unity and enjoy art and textiles. Babbarra design exhibition ‘Jarracharra (Dry Season Wind) is currently touring Europe and in Australia our designs will be included the Piinpi Contemporary Indigenous Fashion.

How do the women you work with inspire you?

Working with these inspirational women every day is incredible, they do amazing work, very talented, very creative, very patient. Their deep cultural knowledge, speaking several languages, juggling cultural obligations and family commitments but manage to come to work every day. They inspire me every day.

Questions for the artists

[TLSE] What is your connection to your design?

[Raylene Bonson] It was my idea to tell the makassan boat (canoe boat) design story. I saw that there was no story for the makassan boat at Babbarra Women Centre. So, I wanted to tell the story of old time people that used the canoe for travelling, ceremonies (bungul), funerals and hunting. Visit other clan group along the Arnhem land. It’s a good history story of Maningrida.

You can see the artwork here.

(Part of the group that travelled to Paris) How did you feel showcasing your art abroad? What did it mean to you to be able to share your art with others?

[Janet Marawarr] I felt proud talking, telling the stories of my design, teaching people how we do printing, my design kunkurra (the wind) is sacred design for my husband and children. I made the design for my children to keep it. Pass it on and when they grow up, they can print/paint or do bark painting.

How do the women you create with inspire you?

All the different designs here from different languages. We understand each other, with seven language tribe. We teach each other and work together and help print.

What do you wish for women in the generations to come?

Teach them, show them art and printing. We are getting old and tired we want the new generation to learn our history and culture through painting and stories. We want to support them. Even make traditional weaving basket and mats. So, they can carry it on (pass on), learn bush dye and colours from bush.

To learn more about the centre and the kind of work they do, check out the site here.


WORDS | Brittany Ross



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