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Ghost Net art: Sea Blanket

By: Ms Rebecca Fisher, Category: Science, Date: 12 Dec 2012

The Museum has purchased Gur Atkamlu (Sea Blanket), a work by Indigenous artists from Darnley Island Arts Centre (Erub Erwer Meta).

Ghost Net art: Sea Blanket #3

Finton Mahony © Australian Museum

“Gur Atkamlu is our Sea Blanket. Just as patchwork quilts from long ago were made from recycled fabric, our blanket uses reclaimed fishing nets and ropes that have been lost at sea and washed up on our beaches. When we look at our blanket we are reminded about the importance of the sea for us, from the birds, the shells and the fish. Just as a patchwork blanket tells its story for future generations, so does our Sea Blanket.”
- Erub Erwer Meta

What’s interesting about this work?

The artists created the work in the style of a patchwork quilt, with each producing a different panel which were joined together, and which tell a story about what is important to them.

The Sea Blanket is made from woven fishing nets and other materials that have been lost at sea. These abandoned nets, known as “ghost nets” or “walls of death”, are a major problem in coastal Northern Australia. They move with the currents and tides and trap and kill fish and birds, and larger animals such as dolphins, sharks and turtles.

The nets that wash on coastal Northern Australia come from both Australia and abroad, although a large majority come from South East Asia. The black net used as edging on the Sea Blanket is from Indonesia, as is the softer green net.

The Sea Blanket, which measures over 2m long, is made from numerous different coloured pieces of fishing net, as well as other items including foam and shells. The blanket is comprised of eight different panels, and the works include akul (mussel shells), a maori wrasse, a booby bird and ari ari and kos sardines. 

Where is Darnley Island and what does the art centre do?

Erub, also known as Darnley Island, is a volcanic island north of Cape York in the North East of the Torres Strait, and on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. It is one of the most remote communities in Australia, with a population of around 400 people.

Erub Erwer Meta (Our Learning House at Erub) artists work to preserve and revitalise their culture. They gain inspiration from the connection with the land, sea and family, and traditional and contemporary stories. 

Will the Museum be adding more ghost net art to its collections?

We will be working with Erub Erwer Meta again in 2013, this time commissioning several new works thanks to the Australian Museum Foundation and the Patricia M Porritt Bequest. These new acquisitions will allow us to collect a greater range of artworks made from ghost nets, and to document how they are made and their cultural significance. Watch this space!