This not-for-profit changes the way we think about sustainable craft.
For more than 60,000 years, Aboriginal communities across Australia have mastered painting, weaving and crosshatching, not only creating useful and beautiful pieces of art, but also sharing the story of a rich and diverse peoples in each piece.
Mimi Arts and Crafts is a not-for-profit initiative in the small town of Katherine, 317km south east of Darwin which celebrates and serves local artists living in the area. Owned and operated by the Aboriginal community, it was formed in 1978 to service outlying and remote communities in the region.
Today Mimi continues this rich history, not only exclusively featuring work by local artists, but partnering with local services to assist the community and inviting people into their space so they can learn pandanus weaving, gunbarrk (didgeridoo) making, jewellery making and painting.
Executive officer Dennis Stokes explains that for local Aboriginal communities art isn’t just an expression of culture, it’s essential to each clan’s identity. “Art is very important because it is art that is culture; art and culture are one and the same,” he says. “Without one the other doesn’t exist.”
Mimi’s choice to feature and teach traditional art using natural materials isn’t about necessity—in essence, ‘upcycling’ natural resources to create something new—it’s about the artists’ ties with their people, their land and their story.
“Using organic materials brings the work back to its basic form and relates back to the land and culture from where it came. Using these techniques and elements ties it to the artist and their people,” Dennis explains.
“Most of the artists find inspiration from their land, family and the stories they have been told since childhood. It’s very rare that a painting is done for the sake of doing a painting. The art has meaning and serves a purpose in people’s country.”
The name ‘Mimi’ derives from the Aboriginal word ‘Mimi’ or the ‘Mimih’ spirits of Aboriginal culture of the region, and this continually reinforces the centre’s commitment to serve a people whose culture is ever changing.
“Aboriginal culture is an evolving culture, so people are constantly learning and adapting. As culture is very vibrant and strong here, artists are continuously finding inspiration for new works and continue to share that with other Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous people,” Dennis says.
Visitors can purchase traditional art, including desert paintings from Lajamanu (using dots) and Rarrk (crosshatching) from Arnhem Land. With 60% of all profits going back to local artists, the art is a creative expression of their regional traditions and dreaming. It also teaches the wider community about the unique differences between each people and the land.
“Cultural protocols are followed even when painting and people can only paint imagery associated with them and their people,” he says. “For example, people can’t paint a dolphin if a dolphin is not a part of their dreaming.”
Ultimately, the intricacies and differences in each art piece featured and made at Mimi highlight the beauty of a diverse culture; showing that when it comes to making something beautiful, everyone has something to offer by using the tools in their own hands and the stories in their hearts.