Yvonne Koolmatrie has lived all her life in Ngarrindjeri country, which ranges from the Coorong, a wetland wilderness at the mouth of the Murray River, upstream to the present day farming communities of the lower Murray Riverland. Koolmatrie grew up in the Riverland and experienced the hardship of seasonal work that became the only means of survival when Aboriginal people were denied access to their traditional lands. Throughout her youth, Koolmatrie saw little evidence of the cultural practices of her ancestors that have become her life's work.
At a one-day weaving workshop in 1982, conducted by the elder, Dorothy Kartinyeri – one of the last people practicing the coiled bundle technique Koolmatrie learned the critical first stage of Ngarrindjeri weaving. She was also instructed in the correct harvesting and preparation of sedge grass. In the once fertile environment of the Riverland, now degraded by intensive agricultural practice, suitable supplies of rushes are rare. Koolmatrie is careful not only to guard the location of her source, but also in harvesting, so as not to disturb the roots and young sedge grass plants. The subtle scent, form and hue of the finished works palpably evoke the environment of the Murray River.
Koolmatrie began to practise the weaving technique and gradually to experiment with form, extending the range of objects she had studied in the South Australian Museum '... to put my story in my weaving'. For Koolmatrie, the near loss of the Ngarrindjeri weaving tradition crystallised a twofold responsibility: to pass on her skills and to create work of the highest possible standards so that her fibre forms will endure for future generations.
'Eel trap', 1997, was first exhibited in 'fluent', Australia's representative exhibition at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997, which also featured the work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Judy Watson. Created to the scale of nineteenth-century works in the collection of the South Australian Museum, Koolmatrie's eel trap does not intend to break with tradition but rather explores the possibilities of innovation. She has said, '... I look at different things. I might be along the river and I see different shapes and I think, that's a good way to weave. I don't sketch it, I just get my rushes and start to weave.' Koolmatrie's intuitive process allows the sculptural potential of functional objects to be realised in spirited interpretations of traditional forms.
Hetti Perkins in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004
sedge rushes (Lepidosperma canescens)
168.0 x 59.0 x 59.0 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1999
Not on display
© Yvonne Koolmatrie
Where the work was made
Murray River Region
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Fluent, La Biennale di Venezia 1997, Australia:
- La Biennale di Venezia, Venice 15 Jun 1997–09 Nov 1997
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 20 Dec 1997–15 Feb 1998
- Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra 13 Mar 1998–03 May 1998
- Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, South Bank 05 Jun 1998–05 Jul 1998
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart 17 Jul 1998–06 Aug 1998
- Tandanya, Adelaide 26 Aug 1998–08 Nov 1998
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Australia 20 Nov 1998–31 Jan 1999
One sun, one moon, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Jul 2007–02 Dec 2007
Country Culture Community (2008-09), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Nov 2008–19 Apr 2009
Our spirits lie in the water, 15 Nov 2014–01 Nov 2015
Referenced in 7 publications
Jennifer Isaacs, Art and Australia (Vol. 39, No. 4), '1970-2001: International exposure of Aboriginal art', pg. 548-557, Sydney, Jun 2002-Aug 2002, 556 (colour illus.).
Michael Lynch and Hetti Perkins, Fluent, La Biennale di Venezia 1997 Australia, Sydney, 1997, (colour illus.), 46. cat.no. 10
Hetti Perkins and Margie West, One sun one moon: Aboriginal art in Australia, ‘Yvonne Koolmatrie in conversation’, pg. 276-279, Sydney, 2007, 278-279 (colour illus.).
Hetti Perkins, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Yvonne Koolmatrie', pg. 62, Sydney, 2004, 62-63 (colour illus.).
Hetti Perkins, Look, 'One sun one moon', pg. 22-27, Sydney, Jun 2007, 23 (colour illus.).
Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Dreams + nightmares’, pg. 87-171, Carlton, 2010, 160-161 (colour illus.), 281.
Jane Wynter, Look, 'Mollie and Jim Gowing's lasting legacy', pg. 12, Sydney, Nov 2010, 12 (colour illus.).