Meet the maker: Tjanpi Desert Weavers

Established in 1995, Tjanpi Desert Weavers is a not for profit social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yakunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Councila resource, advocacy and support organisation for Aboriginal women living in remote communities across approximately 350,000 square kilometres of the western and central deserts.  

Tjanpi was created out of a need for meaningful and culturally appropriate employment and to enable women to earn aincome from selling their fibre art. Tjanpi represents over 400 women artists from 26 remote communities on the NPY lands.  

Tjanpi is the Pitjantjatjara word for a type of spinifex grass. The weavers weave an amazing combination of native grasseshuman hair, animal fur, seeds, feathers, string, wool and raffia to create unique, innovative and constantly evolving handmade works and pieces of art such as baskets, jewellery, beads and fibre sculpture 

The Tjanpi weavers maintain a strong cultural connection and connection to each other and regularly come together on country to collect grass, sculpt and weave, sing and dance and keep culture strong while creating beautiful, intricate and expressive fibre art. The shared stories, skills and experiences of this network of mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters and grandmothers have fuelled Tjanpi’s rich history of collaborative practice. 

It’s good for young women too,’ says Kanytjupayi Benson from Papulankutja in Western Australia. We can show them the sacred sites, special grass and best time to go and get them. We can tell stories while we’re collecting the grass and making the baskets. 

Tjanpi is represented in many national and international public and private art collections. In 2005 Tjanpi was awarded the 22nd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for their collaborative piece, Tjanpi grass Toyota. A new commission will open at the National Gallery of Australia in 2021. This large-scale installation will tell the ancestral story of the Seven Sisters Dreaming. 

Image: Lean Timms