(Dialect: Kala Kawa Ya); verb; teaching and learning

Growing up in the Torres Strait, our Elders, the older ones and even aunties would explain the process of weaving. When we think of weaving, it’s about intertwining and connecting. It tells a story. The mat is a strong part of our culture. It is used from birth, the start of life until when you die. That weaving plays a strong part in our story.

Fiona Elisala Mosby, in conversation with Freja Carmichael, Curator, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, August 2020
Ngurpay 2020
Monoprint series, variable dimensions

This selection of prints from Fiona Elisala Mosby’s recent work Kithalau Zageth (Pandanus work) is as way of talking about issues that sit at the heart of the artwork coming out of the Torres Strait; the importance of living traditions – culture, family and spiritual life, expressed here through the pandanus leaf.

The central motif of the works in Ngurpay is the pandanus leaf. Pandanus is a traditional weaving material used extensively throughout the coastal areas of Northern Australia and Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait) for making baskets, bags and mats. It is harvested when the leaves are still green stripped to smaller fibres, dried, dyed and woven. The prints in this series combine a number of printing techniques. Passing dried leaves directly through the press, the paper is embossed with the marks of the leaves. The images are worked further with the hands, in a way suggestive of the intensive manual handling involved in weaving itself.

In many ways the pandanus leaf in Fiona Elisala Mosby’s work stands for the individual. Not the individual in the sense of one’s self, but the self in relationship; relationship with family, with clan and community, in concord with lore and cultural identity and in the reconciling of flesh and spirit. The individual as a state of transition, of always becoming. Each of the prints undergoes multiple treatments, transforming each time.

Intrinsic Links
Fiona Elisala Mosby, 2020

In Intrinsic Links for instance, the paper is first embossed with traditional ‘minaral’, the Melanesian mark making that originates in wood and turtle shell carving. The pandanus leaves are then inked and passed through the press onto acetate before being transferred into the paper. In the intermediate state, while the inked pandanus shapes wait on the acetate, the colours are smoothed by hand, moved around with the same care and attention to detail as you might see in the weaving of mats or baskets. In the final step in the process, the newly formed pandanus image passes through the press for a final time, transferred onto the embossed paper. The pandanus then speaks of the origins of weaving in nature, while the background acknowledges the origins of Melanesian culture as something intangible but inseparable from contemporary life.

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