“Making art is more about community than art,” fibre artist Adrienne Kneebone is saying. “Art is just the media to get the community back together.”
Kneebone and I have found ourselves a quiet bench in Darwin’s Civic Park, away from the burble of Browns Mart’s evening crowd. She has requested we do the interview face-to-face, and the personable format certainly turns out to suit the sort of ground our conversation is to cover.
Kneebone is co-organiser (with Katherine textile artist Jayne Nankivell) of Barthulha Webs: a weekend of communal craft workshops taking place a few kilometres out of Katherine. Now in its fourth year, the workshops have steadily gathered participants from a lengthening radial sweep, “We started it really very Katherine-only, and then we grew it the next year to include Darwin, and now it’s getting people from Queensland and interstate,” Kneebone says, nodding at Barthulha Webs’ origins as a skill-sharing event, merging contemporary art practices with the traditional weaving know-how of Jawoyn women in regional Beswick communities. Despite its growing popularity, however, Kneebone confirms that the event hopes to remain relatively small and intimate. “We’re trying to keep numbers to about 100 people. We’ve got potential to hold 200 people, but we’re still feeling it out.”
Conversation soon turns to the genre of fibre art and the relatively new recognition of weaving as a viable form of sculpture. “It’s got wings,” Kneebone enthuses about the fibre art scene’s state of health. “And there’s a lot of initiatives happening as well, and not just in Beswick. There’s Maningrida, there’s Oenpelli, there’s stuff happening in the desert as well. And every year there’s more and more. It will never stop, this desire of women wanting to learn weaving,” she adds with conviction. “It brings more healing than people realise. Sitting around with a group of people making art, it’s actually beyond just a craft. It’s more about togetherness, harmony, the talking, the conversations – that’s the product.”
Apart from acting as a conduit for reconciliation, Barthulha Webs also aims to be of some economic benefit for Beswick’s Indigenous communities. Since the event began, Kneebone has already seen some local participants take skills developed in the workshops to a wider market. “With a couple of the Barthulha Webs tutors, they’re getting asked to tutor more, and one’s been asked to tutor at Bachelor College,” Kneebone reveals. “Another artist [Jawoyn fibre artist Sarah Ashley) is exhibiting her work in Sydney galleries. I mean, it’s slow-going, but there’s definitely solid progression.”
Despite such outcomes as these, Kneebone is clear that the benefits of the Barthulha Webs workshops go both ways, “People from down south who don’t have any interaction with any Indigenous people just thrive off it,” she reveals. “They hunger for it.”
Barthulha Webs is happening at the Territory’s oldest standing homestead, Springvale. The historic establishment offers competitive prices for rooms (“You can also just bring a swag,” Kneebone shrugs), and is a short drive out of town on the banks of the Katherine River. There are various workshops that explore methods behind similarly communal crafts to weaving – from making paper to printing with silkscreen stencils, from fashioning toys out of bush materials to felting bags, slippers and hats. Interested parties can visit the website to check out the range of options and book a spot. Courses are very affordable, with the majority costing a princely sum of $25 each.
“’Barthulha Webs’ means strong yarning, strong printing, strong weaving,” Kneebone tells me in parting. “‘Barthulha’ means strong, it means togetherness.” With this in mind, simply by barthulha way of its wide spectrum of participants, this year’s event promises to be an exciting vessel of creative potential and inspiration for all involved.
Barthulha Webs is happening from the 3rd-5th August, at Springvale Homestead, Katherine, NT.
Check out Barthulha Webs’ website.