Naturally weaving magic
Basketry as a craft and an art form showcases Delissa Walker’s unique freedom of spirit, enabling her to remain connected to her people and the land through traditional forms of weaving. As she weaves heritage with modern stylings we see organic matter transform into raw objets d’art where past and present entwine.
Delissa Walker, Indigenous artisan weaver from the Kuku Yalanji region, creates baskets that are more than utilitarian. Delissa fuses fashion, art and soul into her weaving, marrying her ancestral past with the present to create contemporary pieces steeped in custom.
Her organic pieces have earned Delissa a finalist position in the Telstra 2017 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. (The award winners will be announced August 11.) “It normally takes me about a month to make a big basket but I made this huge basket in 10 days just to get something in – I was really shocked to be a finalist!” confesses Delissa.
Delissa grew up in Cow Bay, nestled in the Daintree, surrounded by rainforest and reef, and it is this very landscape and sense of place that is entrenched into her designs. “My biggest influence was just going out on bush walks and learning about our culture,” says Delissa. “I use the black palm tree, it’s very rare, only found in the Daintree area and the Yalanji people are the only people that weave with the fibre.”
Her craftsmanship is painstakingly precise; she magically transforms fibres into intricate art, although she asserts that weaving is anything but simple. There is passion in her voice as she talks about her process: “There is a big green trunk up the top of the palm – that’s what we cut down, then we clean that with a mussel shell. It would be easy if it was just grass,” she laughs. “The wood is very hard like the fibre, so it’s used for woomeras and digging sticks.”
“I didn’t know what I was going to do in life, weaving was a hobby, next minute a career, it’s chosen me, I don’t know if I chose it.”
– Delissa Walker
Delissa was 10 years old when she wove her first basket, learning the skills from her Nanna Walker. “The baskets are very special to us,” shares Delissa, “my grandmother was hidden in one when she was a baby, when the white authorities came to take the children away, during the Stolen Generation.
“All the girl cousins would sit around and help [weave] – it was women’s business,” recalls Delissa, though she admits she wasn’t too committed to it as a teenager. “After I was 18, when my Nanna passed away, I took it up again. I’m the only one now; none of the other girls are taking it on or making them as big as me.” Once Delissa began exhibiting, she recalls, “I was really emotional so I made a really big basket to see if I could make them like Nanna,” her voice is strong but you feel the pain of her loss. Nanna Walker’s memory lives on in Delissa’s art.
Delissa’s baskets reflect the culture of North Queensland, raw and unrefined yet meticulously detailed; and therein lies the beauty.
Delissa’s work, along with other Indigenous artists’ works, can be viewed at Cairns Art Gallery from September 1 until October 16 as part of the exhibition Going Out.