Exhibition explores the ancient art of shell stringing

SHELL stringing dates back at least 2000 years, but thanks to a new wave of Tasmanian “stringers” this ancient – but evolving – art form is enjoying a revival in communities around the state.

A national touring exhibition presented by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) is celebrating the generation of makers who have sustained this uniquely Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural practice.

The exhibition, titled kanalaritja: An Unbroken String, features a variety of beautiful, delicate and rare shell necklaces created by Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors during the 1800s.

A number of items on show have also been fashioned by modern-day makers, including women who have had the opportunity to learn the tradition through the “luna tunapri” (women’s knowledge) cultural revitalisation project.

The museum has been working with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community since 2010 to facilitate a number of luna tunapri workshops in which women – who had not had shell stringing passed down through their families – were guided through the intricate processes of collecting, cleaning and stringing.

Participants were also encouraged to look into their local areas for shell collecting beaches and to use their newfound knowledge to develop their own distinctive shell stringing styles and traditions.

Building on the success of the project, the women aspired to share their journey with the wider public, leading to the creation of kanalaritja: An Unbroken String.

“Shell stringing has never before been the focus of a touring exhibition, nor has it been comprehensively documented in a dedicated publication,” says Janet Carding, director at TMAG.

“Museums and galleries hold and care for materials that represent many thousands of years of cultural heritage … 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.”

kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is accompanied by a dedicated publication featuring a range of essays and photographs that provide a definitive account of shell stringing.

Young visitors can also follow the kanalaritja trail around the exhibition.

kanalaritja: An Unbroken String is on show at TMAG until 21 May 2017, before touring nationally

Caption: Photo credit: Lucia Ross. Image courtesy of Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.