The Birth of Marnin Studio
The Boab Nut Story
The Larrgari tree (boab tree) is a defining feature of the West Kimberley landscape and has been a local food source for thousands of years. For many years, men have carved designs into the Wajarri (boab nut) and sold their work to passing tourists, shopfronts and as gallery exhibition pieces through local arts centers. Marnin Studio have developed a contemporary interpretation on the traditional carved boab; exquisite painted boab nuts produced by more than 20 women from eight communities across the Fitzroy Valley.
The Larrgari tree comes into bloom in the wet season and green grass time, known in Bunuba as Girinybalu or Murlurru, when the larrgari trees (boab tree) produces wajarri (fruit) and jawarrjaliny (flowers). The jawarrjaliny are believed to be connected to the lightning and must not be picked. When the wajarri have matured they become hardened and the pulp is dry and can be removed and eaten. Young larrgari trees can be chopped and the outer bark stripped to access the softer inner bark tissue, which holds moisture and is sucked on during long walks across country away from waterholes.
The emergence of the painted boab nut project is a true testament to the resilience and ongoing empowerment of women in Fitzroy Crossing. In May 2013, women staying at Marninwarntikura Women’s Shelter started painting boab nuts as part of an art therapy program focussed on assisting women to heal from experiences of violence through creative expression. Three of the women decided to try their luck selling their painted boab nuts around the Women’s Centre. June Oscar (CEO) and Emily Carter (Deputy CEO) recognised the entrepreneurial spirit embodied within these nuts and decided to purchase them. June and Emily were happy to support this new development and the women, happy with their payment, made off to the local supermarket to buy some tucker for their families.
Later in the year, a visiting CEO sighted the painted boab nuts and enquired about commissioning the women to paint 100 boab nuts as end of year gifts for their company. Marninwarntikura put the word out among the surrounding communities and decorated boab nuts started flowing into the centre at a great rate. In 2014, The Ark Clothing Company purchased 300 boab nuts for their Christmas shopping season, enabling Marninwarntikura to transform the boab nut project into Marnin Studio, a women’s social enterprise.
Since then, Marnin Studio has worked with more than 70 women to produce approximately 2,500 painted boab nuts, sold across Australia and overseas. Marnin Studio artists, Nita Williams and Deborah Yaddah say, 'It feels really good to see our painted boabs on ABC TV and to see them travelling around the world". The Studio also produces exquisite designs on cotton, silk, linen and paper using screen printing, bush dyeing and block printing techniques. The Studio has embedded a professional Artist in Residency Program within studio operations as a way of supporting local women to develop their understanding of how to transmit their cultural knowledge of place into products with high quality production values.
Throughout the years, visiting artists have returned as artists in residence (AIR), three times each year to build the artistic practice of studio artists and the artistic integrity of their designs. The colours, textures and designs have been informed by Country; the stories of flora and fauna observed by community from the perspective of the seasonal calendar. This reflection upon Country preserves cultural identity and supports the women to connect with each other and community. This process and the products produced through the process build the social and economic participation and power of local women; an outcome central to the vision of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre to empower local women and their families.
Through participation in the AIR program, studio artists gain an understanding of key concepts including artistic practice, colour ways, design & production techniques; and an understanding of plants and the science of bush dyeing. Professional visiting artists have played a role in early stages of product development with great success, as evidenced by sales of homewares, clothing & accessories as well as lengths of material at Marnin Studio’s shopfront in Fitzroy Crossing and market and shopfront sales in Broome, Perth, Melbourne and Darwin.
The Studio is about more than just making and selling products. It is about celebrating culture through arts practice and connection to country and leveraging the beautiful products developed in the studio to define a new strength-based narrative of the empowerment of women and their families in the Fitzroy Valley. Local women are proud of who they are and where they come from, and the opportunity to showcase their culture through these products strengthens identity within the local community and the national psyche.