The Bábbarra Women’s Centre is one of the most important community spaces in Maningrida, a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land at the tip of the Northern Territory. Founded in 1983 initially as a women’s refuge, today the Bábbarra Women’s Centre is a thriving hub of enterprise and activity. ‘It’s quite essential in the community’, says Jessica Phillips, Bábbarra’s first local Indigenous manager. ‘It’s a space for women and only women to get into screen printing, being creative, and to have something to do.’ At least 15 women, sometimes more, from many different language groups (all of the artists are multi-lingual of at least five languages) come together at the Bábbarra Women’s Centre on a daily basis to work on screen printing, lino cutting and sewing alongside each other, telling the stories of their ancestors and their country through the creations.
A couple of years ago, the women from Bábbarra decided they wanted to take on a new project. ‘All the Bábbarra ladies, we sat down and had the idea for our designs on sheets and for beds a long time ago’, tells artist Raylene Bonson, whose mother was a founding member of the Bábbarra Women’s Centre. After a bit of research, Bábbarra’s previous manager Ingrid Johnson came across female-led Melbourne bedding and homewares label Kip&Co, and reached out about the potential of working together on a collaboration. After two years of development between Maningrida and Melbourne, the Bábbarra Women’s Centre x Kip&Co collection is finally ready for the world to see.
This absolutely beautiful collection features eight unique artworks from seven Bábbarra Women’s Centre artists – Deborah Wurrkidj, Elizabeth Wullunmingu, Helen Lanyinwanga (deceased), Janet Marawarr, Jennifer Wurrkidj, Margot Gurawiliwili, and Raylene Bonson. Every element – from artwork selection, to product range, colours and labels – has been led by the women at Bábbarra. Profits from sales of the collection will be divided equally between Bábbarra and Kip&Co, and copyright specialists The Copyright Agency were engaged from the very beginning of the project to ensure best practice for licensing and ethical processes were upheld throughout its execution.
After many months of back and forths, sign-offs, and approvals, in February of this year the Kip&Co founders Alex McCabe, Kate Heppell, and Hayley Pannekoecke travelled to Maningrida with their kids to meet all the women and reveal the final collection, where it was shot on country with the permission of the traditional land owners. ‘It was a chance to meet these amazing artists in person, and to deepen our understanding of the stories behind the artwork’, reflects co-founder Alex McCabe of the transformative trip. ‘We were moved by the history of the arts centre, founded as a safe haven for women, and by the spirit of the artists – their creativity and determination. We believe this spirit has been captured in this beautifully designed range.’
The Bábbarra ladies are equally proud of this landmark collaboration. ‘I feel good Australia will see my design and know my story. The Bábbarra ladies are so strong. We have the strongest ladies at the women’s centre. We always work together, and feel proud of our work here,’ shares Raylene.
The Kip&Co x Bábbarra Women’s Centre collection has been shortlisted in the Textile Design category for the TDF + Laminex Design Awards – and you can clearly see why. Today we learn a little more about each of the women, and the important stories behind their designs.