With Her Hands: Women’s Fiber Art from Gapuwiyak
The Louise Hamby Gift
With Her Hands: Women’s Fiber Art from Gapuwiyak: The Louise Hamby Gift was curated by six undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds that are under-represented in the curatorial profession. The exhibition features selections from a gift of 100 artworks recently donated to Kluge-Ruhe by Dr. Louise Hamby that address topics of tradition and innovation, gender roles, generational change and relationships to place.
Kluge-Ruhe is training the next generation of curators while addressing the pressing lack of diversity in American museums, as part of UVA’s broader Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative. Six undergraduate students—Barriane Franks, Antoinette Griffin, Hannah Jeffries, Helen Martinez, Diana Proenza and Victoria Morales Rodriguez—traveled to Charlottesville from their universities in Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico respectively—to learn every aspect of designing an exhibition, from writing wall labels down to choosing wall colors. They were supervised by Kluge-Ruhe Curator Henry F. Skerritt and two UVA Graduate students in the English department, Eva Latterner and Cassie Davies.
Given that modern and contemporary art exhibitions disproportionately represent male artists (the Guerrilla Girls counted in 2012 that less than 4% of the artists in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern art sections were women), and that a 2015 study showed 73% of museum leadership positions are occupied by men, this exhibition is remarkably unique. With six women of color curating works by 25 Indigenous women artists, With Her Hands: Women’s Fiber Art from Gapuwiyak: The Louise Hamby Gift challenges issues of gender and representation in the museum profession.
“I view this exhibition as a chance to recognize and showcase the often-unheard voices of gifted female artists.” says Diana Proenza of New College of Florida. Her colleague, Victoria Morales Rodriguez, from the University of Puerto Rico- Mayaguez, continues: “This is what I want the audience to take away: the respect, the honor and the inspiration that we feel everyday by telling the story of these brave Indigenous women from Gapuwiyak.”
The artworks in With Her Hands are some of 100 fiber artworks recently gifted to Kluge-Ruhe by another woman, anthropologist, professor and collector Louise Hamby.
In 1991, Louise Hamby acquired her first basket from northern Australia, and over the next three decades, she amassed one of the largest and finest collections of Indigenous Australian fiber art in the world. Between 1995-2001, Hamby’s PhD research took her to Gapuwiyak, where she developed close relationships with a group of senior fiber artists including Lucy Malirrimurruwuy Waṉapuyngu, Rudy Munguluma Biḏingal and Nancy Walinyinawuy Guyana. In November 2017, Dr. Hamby established the Hamby Collection at Kluge-Ruhe as a permanent repository for the research and exhibition of Aboriginal fiber art, through the donation of 100 stunning works from Gapuwiyak. This significant gift—the first in an ongoing series of donations—will make Kluge-Ruhe a world center for the study of contemporary Aboriginal women’s fiber art.
The 100 diverse artworks in the Hamby donation were made between 1996 and 2013 by 25 women artists. There are thirty necklaces made from a variety of seeds, shells and nuts; mats and various forms of basketry (straight baskets, conical baskets, string bags, purses and bathi) are made from natural and dyed pandanus palm. Also included are a variety of sculptures (a canoe, a crocodile and a kangaroo) and ceremonial objects (armbands and headbands).
Skerritt explained, “These 100 works mark the start of a truly transformational gift to Kluge-Ruhe. They are the some of the finest examples of women’s fiber work produced in Australia in the last quarter century. The depth and quality of the Hamby collection will allow Kluge-Ruhe to shed light on this important but understudied section of Indigenous Australian art, and will undoubtedly become a critical destination for scholars and research of Indigenous art.”
Louise Hamby is an American expatriate who hails from North Carolina. She is widely considered the leading academic expert of Aboriginal fiber art, and over her career she has explored the complex set of issues surrounding the making, meaning and use of fiber art in the community. Her books, which include Containers of Power: Women with Clever Hands and Twined Together have become the standard reference texts in the field. She has also curated numerous exhibitions at major institutions across Australia. She is currently a Research Fellow at Australian National University in Canberra and is a fiber art practitioner herself.
Hamby says, “Relationships and connections with people and place have played a part in my formation of the Hamby Collection for Kluge-Ruhe. I am an American but more specifically a southerner from North Carolina. I wanted to share my love of Arnhem Land fiber and the people of Gapuwiyak with those from my own country. The Kluge-Ruhe is a good solution for me; I have been a researcher there over many years and have developed a strong friendship with the staff. This institution is in the perfect position, being part of the University of Virginia, to educate people about Australian Aboriginal people and the significance of their art and culture. The fiber works from Gapuwiyak will play a great part in teaching people about the important role of women and fiber art in everyday life in Arnhem Land.”
In addition to collector Louise Hamby, two artists from Gapuwiyak consulted on the exhibition. Lucy Malirrimurruwuy Wanapuyngu, a master fiber artist, and her daughter Anna Ramatha Malibirr, an emerging artist, visited Charlottesville for three weeks in July to curate and lead programs.
This exhibition and artist visit was sponsored by the Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Northern Territory Government, the McIntire Department of Art and the American Australian Association.