Tjulpu Wiltja; Bird Nest Basket

Ilawanti Ungkutjuru Ken (b.1944)
'I used to see a nest in a big cave. In the cave the nest was in a warm spot. The nest was circular and the birds kept themselves warm by hugging each other. That nest is similar to a basket. These little birds have Tjukurpa stories of their own.

Many moons ago, when there was lots of food, there were many sources of wild growing food. When it’s a good season, the rain comes down. The bird knows the seasons of the moon. When the cold weather is coming, they already prepare and make a very strong and warm nest for the cold weather for his family and kids. He looks after and takes care of his family. The goanna on top of the tree is trying to eat the birds. The bird, he listens, he knows and alerts his family by whistling, "Chhirrr, chhirrr" sitting near the tree. The goanna is hungry. There’s a nest high up on top of the tree with the bird’s mother, eggs, siblings and all the babies. My basket is like a nest. In our
community, that's how it should be. Many Aboriginal people take care of their kids in a good way. Altogether the
community stays strong, healthy and happily looking after their family.'

Ilawanti Ken, translation by Margaret Smith with kind assistance from Tjala Arts and Lilian Wilton.

Tjanpi (meaning 'grass') evolved from a series of basket weaving workshops held on remote communities in the Western Desert by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council in 1995. Tjanpi sculptures were first produced in 1998 when Kantjupayi Benson, from Papulankutja, added a handle to a basket and made a grass 'pannikin' (metal cup) followed by a set of camp crockery and a number of dogs.

Anangu women of the Central and Western Desert have for a very long time worked with natural fibres to create items such as bush sandals (wipiya tjina), pouches (yakutja), hair-string skirts (mawulyarri), and head-rings (manguri) for daily and ceremonial use. Adding a contemporary spin to the traditional, women now create baskets, vessels and an astonishing array of vibrant sculptures from locally collected desert grasses bound with string, wool or raffia and often incorporating feathers, seeds and found materials.

Copyright for the artwork remains the property of Ilawanti Ungkutjuru Ken. Copyright for the text and images remains the property of Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
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Object detail

tjanpi, wool, Raffia, wipiya (emu
feathers), wire
50.0 x 60.0 x 50.0 cm
Accession Number
Credit line
Purchased 2018
Object Type
Named Collection
Medical History Museum Category


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