From West Arnhem Land to the streets of Paris, a collection of works from a remote art centre is completing a cross-cultural journey like no other.
Situated in the remote coastal community of Maningrida, the BĂˇbbarra Women’s Centre is known for its colourful screen-printed textiles, which interpret sacred ancestral stories of creation.
But they will be somewhat removed from their context next month, when a collective of artists from BĂˇbbarra and the town’s arts and culture centre exhibits in the French capital.
Artist Janet Marawarr, who has worked at the centre for more than 10 years, recalled sitting in a bark hut as her grandfather passed on the stories she would later come to paint.
“When we were sitting, making fire, he would make us fire and we would sit around and tell a story,” she said.
“He was telling us do this, do that, you know, and write and paint.”
The BĂˇbbarra Women’s Centre is one of a number of remote Indigenous art centres drawing attention beyond Australia and Ms Marawarr said she was looking forward to sharing stories of her home to audiences far removed from it.
“To tell a story when the white people come, I’m so happy,” she said.
Ingrid Johanson, who manages the centre, described it as a “very special place in the heart of Maningrida”.
With more than three decades of history in the community, the centre employs about 20 local women from up to 12 language groups and specialises in screen printing and linocut art.
The international showing comes during an eventful year for BĂˇbbarra, which is owned by the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation.
“We’ve had a busy few months for sure,” Ms Johanson told ABC Radio Darwin‘s Liz Trevaskis.
The women’s textiles, screen printed and then sewn into clothing designs locally, were in the spotlight last month when they were showcased at a fashion parade at the Commonwealth Games.
More recently, Ms Marawarr enjoyed “dancing, singing, and just explaining” the ancestral stories to audiences in Sydney, where the women also recently exhibited.
“That’s similar to the exhibition coming up in Paris,” Ms Johanson said of the Sydney show.
“It’s a joint exhibition between the Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre and the Women’s Centre and it celebrates women’s work across mediums â€” including textile design, painting of hollow logs, painting on bark and some etching.
“I think the women are feeling really proud to think their designs from Arnhem Land are going to go to the other side of the world to be showcased in a really beautiful part of Paris.”
When the Women’s Centre wrote about the French exhibition on its Facebook page, the post went viral, accruing interest from around the world.
Ms Johanson said she hoped the exhibition would sustain that interest to a new market abroad.
“For now, I think there’ll be a lot of Parisians with interests in Aboriginal art who’ll be attending, and I’m assuming a lot of people generally will be quite interested because it’s a diverse exhibition,” she said.
She also hoped the show would translate to more than just good publicity for the remote arts centre, whose sales, she said, were largely domestic.
“At the moment we get some website orders from overseas, but predominantly our market is definitely in Australia; at least the BĂˇbbarra Women’s Centre is,” she said.
“All of that will have a positive flow-on effect for our sales, but then also more importantly for educating, getting the really positive story out there in a bigger way.
“It’s a really positive story and everyone’s feeling really proud and excited here in Maningrida.”
Asked what her grandfather would think of the international showing, Ms Marawarr said: “He’d think it’s all good.”