Indigenous artists learn Japanese printmaking techniques 

Waringarri artist Agnes Armstrong is using an ancient Japanese printmaking technique to record traditional Indigenous stories

In a merging of cultures, a group of Indigenous artists is using a traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking technique dating back hundreds of years to illustrate the stories of their country.

Working with the printmaking team at Charles Darwin University’s Northern Editions Printmaking Studio and Gallery, the eight visiting artists from Waringarri Arts, in Kununurra WA, are in the studio on Casuarina campus to produce a collection of Japanese-style woodblock prints.

Master Printmaker Jacqueline Gribbin, who introduced the technique to the Indigenous artists while visiting Kununurra to hold a workshop earlier this year, said the technique of woodblock printmaking, known as “mokuhanga”, was a natural form of printmaking.

“You don’t need a press or chemicals, and the paints are water based or natural pigments,” she said. “The wooden block is traditionally cherry wood, but you can also use pine or a wood, which is particularly receptive to water. It makes this a simple technique that can be transported easily to remote communities in order to be able to collaborate with artists. You can even use traditional some ochre powder.”

Waringarri artist Agnes Armstrong has already produced several images using “mokuhanga” alongside the printmakers at Northern Editions. While for Waringarri artist Richard Bloomer, traditionally a Boab nut carver, the workshop is his first printmaking experience and a new approach to utilising his carving skills.

An artist since the early 1980s, Ms Armstrong has a particular interest in landscapes and is using the ancient Japanese technique to record traditional Indigenous stories.

“It is good to learn new ways,” she said. “I had not seen the woodblocks until the printmakers came to do a workshop in Kununurra.

“One of the prints I have done represents a scene at the Ivanhoe Ranges when I was about three or four years old,” she said.

Ms Gribbin first took the technique to the Tiwi Islands in 2010 to deliver a workshop, which culminated in an exhibition of 37 distinctive prints that were unlike anything produced on the Tiwi Islands or in “mokuhanga”.

This year the Northern Editions team has also travelled to Warlayirti Artists Cooperation in Balgo, Western Australia, and in early 2013 they will travel to Bula’bula Arts in Ramingining to work with artists from both Milingimbi and Ramingining.

Ms Gribbin recently travelled to Japan to further her skills in the art of “mokuhanga” and exhibit some of her “mokuhanga” works in Tokyo.