Rising from the ashes

Sally Foster Bear Feature

New acquisition - "Caring for Country, Caring for Climate."

Murdoch University Art Collection’s latest art acquisition was inspired by the horrific bushfires that tore down the east coast of Australia in late 2019.

Caring for Country, Caring for Climate was created by Sally Ann Wipana Foster, an artist belonging to the Ngaanyatjarra language and cultural group who lives in the remote community of Irrunytju (Wingellina), Western Australia.

Portraying a mother koala cradling her joey, with burnt patches over its body, this work is the artist’s call to action on climate change.

Sally was particularly moved after watching the viral video showing a lady taking off her shirt to wrap around a distressed and badly burnt koala in the New South Wales bush fires. Haunting images from the fires sparked a deep drive in her to create this artwork and use her craft to speak to a wider audience.

Sally is a member of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers (Tjanpi meaning ‘wild grass’), an award-winning, Indigenous governed and directed social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC). 

“Sally worked meticulously over number of weeks, thinking carefully about every detail, wanting everything from colour choice to body position to tell a story. She has a truly unique weaving style, using long stitches over each other. I’ve never seen another Tjanpi artist use this style and the outcome is an incredibly solid, firm sculpture,” said Isobel Egan, Marketing Officer at Tjanpi Desert Weavers.


The Weavers use native grasses to create contemporary fibre art and travel vast distances to weave together and their work is underpinned by a strong connection to Country, culture and community. Sally is the daughter of respected elder Kunmanara Foster, a previous Director of the Council, important senior lawwoman and a much-loved Tjanpi artist.

Sally’s work is a distillation of her people’s concern about climate change.

“We know these fires are being caused by not looking after the land. I'm from a small community a long way from the big cities. Tjanpi is how I can tell this important story and speak to people all over Australia,” said Sally.

It was a conscious decision for Sally to stitch both the koalas in Australia’s national colours to show that it is a responsibility of all Australians to look after the land and address the impact of climate change.

Murdoch University Art Curator Mark Stewart was thrilled to acquire this very special artwork.

“Murdoch’s significant Indigenous art collection represents a broad range of artwork from remote communities throughout Australia. A variety of techniques and mediums are featured including painting, barks, and sculptural carved objects.  I’d been aware of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers for quite some time. They’re a unique collective and nationally recognised having just completed a major art commission for the National Gallery of Australia. The commission artworks will be showcased this November in a landmark exhibition titled Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now," he said.

The ultimate campus home for the koalas will be the Harry Butler Institute when capital works are ultimately completed. Infrastructure being developed will include special cabinetry and customised design spaces that will allow for many of Murdoch’s object-based Indigenous artworks to be displayed in an optimum and engaging fashion.   

“Many of the object-based Indigenous artworks in the Art Collection were acquired in the 1970s and 80s. Sally’s artwork extends this feature, providing a contemporary context, in medium, technique and theme.  It’s a beautifully crafted artwork and with its inherent themes of wildlife conservation and environmental awareness, there is arguably no better home for it than the Harry Butler Institute.” 



(Sally Ann Wipana Foster - "Caring for Country, Caring for Climate" (2020) Tjanpi (dry grass), wool, raffia, stitch, 56cm x 35cm x 18cm. Artwork reproduction courtesy of the artist and Tjanpi Desert Weavers, NPY Women's Council ©)




Posted on:

3 Nov 2020

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