Arts of the Sea People

Arts of the Sea People

By Sue Ryan, image maker, storyteller and architect of the Ghost Net Art Project

Back in 2014 the Ghost Net Art Project created Jidirah a four metre long Southern Right whale at Ceduna Arts with Ceduna artists and the help of some visiting Yalata women. 

Jidirah travelled to Europe for the blockbuster exhibition Taba Naba — Australia, Oceania, Arts of the Sea People at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, after which went on to be exhibited in Paris and Geneva.  The project returned with a 4 x 4 metre Blue Swimmer crab Guldamara with Ceduna artists. Jidirah and Guldamara were both exhibited in a museum in Switzerland where they were united for the first time and now reside together in Crans Montana in the Swiss Alps.

This year we were at it again, this time in Yalata. The workshop was funded by Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resource Management  (AWNRM)/ Dept. of Environment and Water and Ceduna Arts.

We joined Ceduna facilitators Pam Diment and Sherrie Jones and with a trailer filled with old fishing net, rope and materials we made our journey from Ceduna to Yalata.

Yalata CEO Desley Culpin arranged terrific accommodation which was to be our home for the next two weeks.  Nigel Aspin the youth worker supplied the work space at the back of the Youth Centre. Yalata Youth Group had been contacted by AW NRM to collect the Marine Debris as part of a longitudinal study into marine debris. As we started to bring materials into the work space we were greeted by Derek Bryant and Polly Charra. Polly suggested we should make a Harlequin Fish, a big orange fish with blue markings found in South Australian waters. Derek drew up the 2 metre pattern for the fish and the next minute Derek and I were splitting bamboo and frame making began before we’d even had the chance to unpack. 


Thanks to Pam and Graham Diment who had sourced a wide range of abandoned fishing net and rope from Port Lincoln we had a fantastic selection with lots of orange for the Harlequin Fish, coloured ropes and a good deal of black and white net, along with debris collected near Yalata. Available materials help dictate what will be made, so with this in mind a Killer Whale was also decided upon.

We began working on the 3 metre whale frame while Sherrie and Pam worked with participants on the Harlequin fish and other items. The weather was wet, windy and cold and a funeral affected participation. However people popped by throughout the workshop to have a look and joined in to help cover the frame with net, stitch and weave designs for the fish and split bamboo for the framework of the whale. By the end of the first week we had the Harlequin fish well under way and the Killer Whale frame finished ready for covering with net. 

The second week was all hands on deck to attempt to complete the two works which was quite an ambitious feat to say the least.  The works started to come together to the delight of the Yalata people who had witnessed the early stages of development.

It’s at this the point where people understand what on earth we are doing as the works take shape and seem come to life with their own personalities. Big smiles from the community at this moment!

Towards the end as we were getting tired with all the stitching we were joined by Julie Coleman and Cassandra Bell who were absolute legends. Cassandra created beautiful fins for the Harlequin fish while Julie powered in a stitch-a-thon mode to cover the whale in the various layers of black and white net for the form to take its shape. These two women proved to be natural ghost net artists.


On the last day we had the big pack up and clean up and the Killer Whale and fish made their way to Ceduna Arts where the final finishing touches are to be made. I think the whale may have got some looks as it sailed by on the back of the trailer across the Nullarbor. Who knows where these artworks will end up? The world is their oyster!

Many thanks to Bruce MacPherson-Dept. of Environment and Water and the board of Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resource Management  (AWNRM) for the core workshop funding;  Serena Gunter from Ceduna Arts (funding and assistance); Desley Culpin CEO Yalata; Nigel and Mark at the Yalata Youth Centre;  elders and other participants at Yalata; Port Lincoln -materials; Graham Diment – net and rope wrangler and general trouble shooter; and to my excellent co-workers -Pam Diment and Sherrie Jones. Perhaps we  will be back again next year to create a giant Mullaway! Stay tuned.

For more information about Ghost Net Art, contact Sue Ryan. https://www.ghostnets.com.au/ghostnet-art/


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