Thursday 19 December, 2013, Sydney, Australia: Ghost Nets, a large new artwork commissioned by the Australian Museum is now on display in the museum’s permanent Indigenous Australians exhibition space.
Titled, Dauma and Garom, the artwork constructed from ghost nets – discarded fishing and trawler nets which litter the waters off northern Australia – transforms a mindless and ruthless killer into a thing of beauty.
Created by indigenous artists and community members from Erub (also known as Darnley Island), a remote island in the Torres Strait, this latest addition to the Museum’s permanent collections is part of an ongoing effort by the Erub people to combat the devastating damage caused by ghost nets.
Indigenous communities are working hard to protect marine wildlife from this relentless killer. In Erub, rangers collect tons of washed up nets on beaches, before local communities recycle the material in multiple ways. One such way was the creation of Dauma and Garom, which at six metres in size stands as testimony to its artists’ devotion to their home.
At first glance, the large sculptural installation depicts a famous Erub Island love story between a crab (Dauma), and a fish (Garom), who stared at each other for so long that they fell in love. But upon closer inspection, the hand-crafted materials reveal that Dauma and Garom represents much more than just a love story. In its fibres are inextricably woven life and death, creation and destruction. And in its purpose are forever united different cultures through the common quest of environmental conservation.
Dr. Scott Mitchell, Head of Culture, Conservation and Business Consulting at the Australian Museum, journeyed to Erub and spent time with the local residents who constructed the work. To him, the work represents not only a powerful form of artistic expression but is a poignant reminder of the environmental issues facing the world today.
“What really drew me into this story is the fact that here we have an incredibly remote community in Darnley Island that is both potentially impacted by floating debris and floating ghost net in their marine environment, but is also taking such a positive step to deal with this problem,” Dr Mitchell said. “What we’re particularly interested in is the way the art centres are picking up this material and creating exciting new art forms out of what is essentially toxic rubbish.”
It is this ability to reconcile destruction and creation, carelessness and absolute care, which captured the imagination of Australian Museum Director Frank Howarth. The work of the Erub people made an impression on Mr Howarth in 2012 at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, where he handpicked an eight-panel work, Sea Blanket, for the Museum. Mr Howarth is intent on continuing the relationship between Australia and the Torres Strait people and Dauma and Garom will be added to the Museum’s existing collection of Erub artwork.
Of the Erub community, Mr Howarth said, “Given its geographic significance and the vibrancy of the local cultural and artistic expression, I felt that we needed to look more closely at this community, and work with them to represent their culture in our collections. Dauma and Garom does an excellent job of representing Erub culture; but more than that, its bittersweet origins remind us of our earth’s fragility and potential demise.”
Ghost nets have been known to reach six kilometres in length, and cause irreparable damage to marine animals and environments. Carried by strong ocean tides particularly in the Arafura Sea off the northern coast of Australia, ghost nets travel hundreds of kilometres and kill up to 200 species of marine animal and birds. Rolling along the bottom of the ocean tangling reefs and crabs, and trapping fish and endangered species as they float in the water, ghost nets pose a dire environmental problem.
The ghost net project was funded by the Australian Museum Foundation through the Patricia Porritt Bequest.
Chairman of the Australian Museum Foundation, Mr. Diccon Loxton said, “We love supporting the Museum and its many vital projects which include;: sequencing of the Koala Genome, digitisation of the Museum’s collection by a team of more than 70 dedicated volunteers, preparing an on-line identification guide for invasive seaworms, and using the museum's extensive Polynesian collection to engage with at risk Islander youth. We are particularly delighted to be supporting this project. It celebrates and records Torres Strait Islander culture as it continues to thrive and develop in the current world. It is an arresting way of drawing attention to a major environmental issue, and the work is truly beautiful.”