Regina Pilwuk Wilson Daly, Kimul, Wadeye, Western Arnhem Land NT, Australia, b. 1948


Master weaver, renowned painter and respected elder Regina Wilson plays a leading role in the small, peaceful community of Peppimenarti and its flourishing art centre, Durrmu Arts. With her late husband, Harold Wilson, she was pivotal in the founding of this community after successful land rights campaigns in 1973. Peppimenarti is situated deep in the Daly River wetlands 300 kilometres south-west of Darwin. The large rocks and deep pools are a significant Dreaming site of her Ngan'gikurrungurr language group. The name Peppimenarti means large rock.

A long established tradition of weaving took Regina and fellow weavers to the Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea in 2000. This was the impetus that set the women to experimenting with paint. Also important, as Regina says, was the recognition of the need to record the material culture of her people in a more durable form.  Using the same forms, colours and subjects of their fibre work, their large canvasses quickly emerged onto the contemporary art stage. Regina's exquisitely executed paintings soon appeared in major exhibitions and in 2003 she won the National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Art Award for her Syaw (fishnet) painting. In 2009 she was one of several artists chosen to represent Australia at the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. Her innovative approach to translating an ancient cultural practice into a highly accomplished contemporary art form speaks of the infinite variability of the Dreaming Spirit and its ability to renew and sustain its people.

Regina adapts the warp and weft of weaving to paint. Fine linear strands are magnified and inscribed on a bright background, intersecting and overlapping as they coalesce into forms that reflect traditional objects in their shape or structure. The looped string and spiral configurations of traditional woven mats, dilly bags, coiled baskets and fishing nets provide simple visual motifs that Regina builds upon to create precise structures, underscored by the delicacy and flexibility of woven fabric. Fluidity and tension are both at play in this abstracted rendition of the rhythmic process of twining and accretion. A powerful shimmering effect results, "evoking the dapple of light on water" (Hetti Perkins). Regina uses the subtle colours of bush dyes in her painting, sometimes including lightened areas of natural fade that would come with time during an object's traditional use.

In applying her 'up close' technique to another of her chosen subjects, message sticks, (the traditional method of communication between distant tribes) Regina shows her genius in threading the old and the new into a singular vision. Their elaborate, textured quality is transposed onto canvas in the typical large-scale format. Our usual frames of reference are dislodged as her subject is so inextricably contiguous within its context: immanence and transcendence momentarily become one.

Now a grandmother herself, Regina teaches the young girls of Peppimenarti to weave just as she was taught from the age of ten. Once a week the young people gather for 'culture day'. "Its not just for fun'" Regina impresses, "we've got to keep our culture going." The act of weaving not only fosters relationship and sharing, it metaphorically implies the connectedness of the kinship system, the foundation of Aboriginal social relations. Her own success has been inspirational to others and contributed significantly to the strong sense of confidence and initiative within the community. Art making for Regina is just a natural part of her day but the funds it brings in further reinforces its possibilities as an avenue for the young who follow in her footsteps.  As Regina says, maintaining these practices affirms and strengthens the spirit. It is Dadirri, the spring within, an inner calm and pervasive awareness that is derived from ancient Dreamtime beliefs.

Author: Sophie Pierce