kanalaritja: an unbroken string
A culmination of the journey of cultural renewal celebrating the generations who have maintained this uniquely Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural practice
Shell-stringing is one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community’s most culturally significant and closely-guarded traditions. It is a celebration of culture and is the Tasmanian Aboriginal community’s longest continued cultural practice – an unbroken string which maintains connectivity with Ancestors, culture and Country.
kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is a touring exhibition being featured by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). It showcases a variety of beautiful, delicate and rare shell necklaces. The collection features shell necklaces created by Tasmanian Aboriginal Ancestors in the 1800s and acclaimed makers of today, as well as a new wave of stringers who had the opportunity to learn the tradition through the luna tunapri (women’s knowledge) cultural revitalisation project.
Dating of pierced shells from Tasmania’s west coast have marked the tradition as being active at least 1 800 years ago. Today, the pakana Community (Tasmanian Aborigines) proudly continue this unique tradition and honour the fortitude of their Ancestors. The connection to Sea Country and cultural knowledge of shell resources, weather patterns and local tides remains with the pakana Community – particularly the shell-stringers.
“Like many stringers, my earliest memory of the tradition is of being on the beaches collecting shells. It was something we always did as a family,” says Jeanette James, whose work is featured as part of the exhibition.
“There is an expectation for us, as a group of Aboriginal women responsible for maintaining such an important part of our culture for future generations, to follow cultural protocol: look after Country, understand the environment and how to sustainably collect the shells and protect the seaweed beds. In honour of the elder stringers uphold the quality of work, it reflects on all of us.”
Since 2010, TMAG has worked with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community to facilitate a number of luna tunapri workshops in which women in the Community – who had not had shell stringing passed down through their families – were guided through the intricate processes of collecting, cleaning and stringing.
“Shell-stringing has never before been the focus of a touring exhibition, nor comprehensively documented in a dedicated publication,” TMAG Director Janet Carding said.
“kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is a culmination of the journey of cultural renewal, while also celebrating the generations of makers who have sustained this uniquely Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural practice.
Importantly, this is a project that has been led by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and I would like to acknowledge them for allowing us to help tell their story.”
kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is accompanied by a dedicated publication featuring a range of essays and photographs, aiming to build awareness and provide a definitive account of the unique cultural practice of shell stringing.
“Museums and galleries hold and care for material that represents many thousands of years of cultural heritage, and it is a privilege to play a part in helping those treasures form a link to the future by supporting today’s artists, and to help ensure that their practice continues to thrive for the benefit of all.”
Following its showing at TMAG, the exhibition will tour to every state and territory in Australia, running until October 2018.
Visit TMAG online for more information on kanalaritja: An Unbroken String and to find out when the exhibition will be touring near you.