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Island way makes for unique success

On Darnley Island work is shared.

From sitting around a bench fixing fishing gear or working on a boat, chores on the Island take on a social aspect, bringing people together to chat and share stories.

At the Island’s art centre, Erub Arts, applying this collaborative approach to art-making has been a game changer.

Long-time centre manager Diann Lui and a team of artists have just returned home from a whirlwind six months of national and international travel.

They have travelled north to Monaco and Singapore and south to Tasmania, Canberra and Sydney for a series of exhibitions, collaborations and art projects in a frenzy of ‘firsts’ for the centre.

“The Taba Naba exhibition in Monaco was both the biggest highlight and the biggest challenge for us, with its tight timeline,” Diann said.

“The artists who went to Monaco were blown away by the grandeur of the museum. The entire building is dedicated to the exhibition and the Australian artworks take great prominence ­­–our ghost net artwork is just in from the foyer and the grand staircases.”

Taba Naba – Australia, Oceania, Arts of the Sea People, opened at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco in March and is expected to attract audiences in excess of 500,000 before it closes in September. Erub Arts’ work is a large scale ghost net installation featuring a striking black and white outrigger canoe, as well as oversized fish, turtles and sharks.

“We’ve been working with ghost net for a long time. The artists fiddled around with bags at first but didn’t really get enthused until we started to work on the large-scale three dimensional works,” Diann explains.

“The large works took the focus away from the individual, as we needed to take a team approach, and this led to a great change …. And then, when we started to get into welding the frames, at first for a large dinghy, well that brought the boys in.

“They have got over the idea that stitching is women’s work as everyone has to do stitching on the big artworks.”

On an Island of 400 people, 12 of whom work at the art centre, everyone lends a hand.

The ghost net is sourced for the art centre from local rangers, who also collect large ropes used in a unique form of felting, while the local freight company also collects old ropes and nets on its travels between the Torres Strait and mainland.

This generous approach has seen the Erub Arts artists take part in collaborations from Mornington Island to Tasmania, where they have worked on ghost net and weaving projects that bring different cultures and stories together.

In Canberra Erub Arts artists have been working on a textile project at the Australian National University’s School of Arts, and, while in Sydney they were exhibitors at the prestigious Biennale.

Diann believes that the art centre’s success this year has come off the back of a decade of stable management and investment in artistic development.

“Rather than focus on a full exhibition program, we have concentrated on building the artists skills first, mostly with Lynnette (Griffiths), the centre’s artistic director and also by bringing in other artists and arts workers for different skills and ideas,” she said

Having recently returned from a successful Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, the team at Erub Arts continues to grow their business.  Diann is now working on improving their Facebook presence with the intention of setting up a forum for online sales.

“People from all over the world are watching, following and supporting us and what we are doing,” she says.

“We have built a community outside the Island. People from all over the world are following our story.”