Marnin Studio; an Inspired Story
Our last field trip enabled a return visit to the Marnin Studio in Fitzroy Crossing. Marnin is the Walmajarri word for women and this unique design studio has emerged from the innovative work of the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC) in the heart of the Kimberley in Western Australia.
Located on Bunuba Country, MWRC works with women and families from the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Wangkatjungka, Walmajarri and Nyikina language groups to provide vital human services such as legal support, world class child care, high profile advocacy and shelter from violence. In 2013 MWRC seeded an ambitious Social Enterprise Program, supporting women to turn the things they love to do into projects that make money. This program evolved into the Marnin Studio, driven by the vision of local women artisans.
Marnin Studio continues to grow through strategic partnerships and by connecting women locally, nationally and internationally through the creation of exquisite block and screen-printed textile products and hand painted boab nuts. Products from the Marnin Studio are contemporary in design but based in the women's deep knowledge of the local environment, culture and community. A Designer and Artist in Residency Program has furthered the artistic integrity of the program through working with the studio participants to create products that are deeply studied and designed as a collection of works.
The studio itself is small and picturesque, jammed with an array of paints, fabrics, artworks and samples. It hides behind banana plants in the lush commercial garden maintained out the back of MWRC. To one side is the outdoor dyeing area, where recycled oil drums hold silk soaking in mysterious botanical concoctions, in front a verandah where women can work in the cool shade of vines and palms. It was a hive of activity when we visited, as the women worked to a deadline finishing an order for 300 painted boab nuts for The Ark Clothing Company in Melbourne. Coordinator Brooke Small explained that a seasonal colour palette had been developed for these nuts, in conversation with The Ark designers, who have also been instrumental in forging a broader partnership with Marnin as part of their business ethos which values social and ecological responsibility.
Seasonal colour palettes are also developed for the textile products printed in the workshop. The women go bush and take photos of plants; their leaves, seeds and flowers. These images are compiled into a collage from which the artists draw inspiration for a limited range of compatible hues which they then use when screen printing on linen, silk, cotton and paper. These colours are also matched with the botanical dyes which the women use for lengths of silk sewn into scarves and wraps. Sometimes these lengths are over- printed with delicate hand-carved blocks featuring local plant and animal designs, also seasonally selected. The results are exquisitely subtle.
The quality of the finished products reflects this disciplined rationale behind the studio’s artistic practice. Hand in hand with the commercial partnerships forged with city organisations is the importance accorded Fitzroy Valley cultural life which imbues each finished piece. Economic reality bites however. As with most other arts organisations in the Kimberley the necessary operational funding support is uncertain, despite the long-term record and national recognition of umbrella organisation MWRC as a successful driver of programs for social health improvement. One highly competent arts worker has lost her job and the coordinator position is also insecure.
In order to attract further investment Marnin Studio is developing a sustainable business model that seeks to balance the development of a unique collection of handmade works at the studio with a small range of textile products produced offsite through selective collaborative commercial partnerships. Marnin Studio is also licensing custom made designs for commercial use by others including The Ark Clothing Company who will retail three beautiful silk scarves throughout their four Melbourne stores from this November and Endota Spa who will feature Marnin designs on the inside packaging of their 2016 natural beauty products range.
It can be seen that as a social enterprise program, Marnin Studio operates a little differently to an incorporated art centre as such. The rationale for its existence prioritises activities linked to economic development and, thereby, social health. Business opportunities must be actively sought and built upon for program sustainability. Of equal importance however is the specific cultural context which informs the studio’s art projects. Marnin demonstrates a particular vitality in its ability to integrate these two elements; maintaining the integrity of culture alongside commercial viability.
“Marninwarntikura exists today on the shoulders of remarkable women from the Fitzroy Valley…It is because of their past actions that the Women’s Resource Centre occupies its central position, delivering vital human services across this remarkable region” (June Oscar AO)
For more information on Marnin Studio visit: www.mwrc.com.au
Part of this article courtesy of Brooke Small and Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre.