Counterweave Arts is more than selling Aboriginal art – we believe sharing aspects of Aboriginal culture is a fundamental part of being an ethical fair trade business. Aboriginal artists choose to share stories and knowledge through their paintings: these artworks are not just beautiful objects, they share some of the intricate cosmology, social structures, botany, medicine and spirituality that runs through every aspect of life. They are full of significance and meaning.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in what we now call Australia for at least 60,000 years. Aboriginal culture is the longest continuing culture in the world and it continues to live and grow, handed down through the generations through ceremony, lore, song, art and language. For Aboriginal people culture and connection to country are fundamental to identity: being strong in culture means knowing who you are, where you fit, where you belong. And language is key to this. More than 250 Indigenous Australian language groups were spoken at the time of colonisation in the late 18th-century. Around 120 are still spoken today but there is a great deal of work happening around the country to revive, preserve, and strengthen language. More information is available at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies https://aiatsis.gov.au/
Currently Counterweave stocks artworks from Artists of Ampilatwatja and Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation. These are communities in the very centre of Australia – about 300 kilometres east (Ampilatwatja) and west (Warlukurlangu) of Alice Springs and for many of the artists English may be their fourth or fifth language.
Margaret Kemarre Ross of Artists of Ampilatwatja
Maria Nampijinpa Brown of Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation
In other parts of Australia English is the dominant language and Aboriginal languages have disappeared or are spoken by very few people. This is especially true in the south east of Australia where colonisation almost wiped out the local Aboriginal peoples, in spite of a strong resistance. Gunai/Kurnai country is not far from our home city of Melbourne: local elders have been working hard to revive and share the Gunai/Kurnai language and in doing so, preserve and hand on the unique Gunai/Kurnai culture.
‘Language isn’t just about speaking, it’s your whole way of life,’ explained Lynnette Solomon-Dent. ‘It tells you what’s in the country, what the stories are, what your obligations are to each other.’ Unpack a single word and you can start to understand a system of kin relations and cultural obligations that are still alive and well. The word for ‘mother’ doubles as the word used for Lynnette’s sisters. If anything happened to Lynnette, her sisters would automatically become mothers to her children. It’s all there in the language.
- note that we use the term “Aboriginal people” to include Torres Strait Islander people. This is not meant disrespectfully but to avoid repetition. For brevity and readability we use the term, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” at the beginning of a written piece, and “Aboriginal people” thereafter.