Alice Hunai / Vanuatu/Australia b.1951 / Bwana (Money mat) 2000 / Woven pandanus / 320 x 115cm (with fringe) / Commissioned 2001 with funds from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist


Not Currently on Display

Bwana (Money mat) by Alice Hunai is a 3.2-metre-long, finely woven pandanus mat. The name refers to the mat’s traditional role as valuable currency in Vanuatu — mats are often used as offerings in marriage or trade. Families in Vanuatu store these mats in custom-made pandanus bags over their kitchen fireplace; the smoke keeps them dry in humid conditions and seasons them so they last for many years. They are removed briefly to be used for ritual, but they may also be used as offerings in disputes and matters requiring resolution. In Bwana (money mat), the artist has emphasised elegant diagonal patterning using natural variations in the pandanus strands, and it has been finished with fringes along the edges. The mat is a superb example of this type of work and complements a larger piece in the Queensland Art Gallery Collection, which was commissioned from the artist in 2001.

Alice Hunai was born in Lavushi (Pentecost Island, Vanuatu) in 1951 but she now lives in north Queensland. From a very young age, she was taught to weave by her mother and grandmother. Hunai makes baskets, hats and other small objects for sale at various markets. Her large-scale mats take between three and six months to complete and require large volumes of material that is prepared and sent to the artist by her mother in Vanuatu, as the local variety of pandanus in Townsville is too dry for Hunai’s extremely fine technique. Bwana (money mat) is based on traditional designs from Pentecost Island, but the artist’s individual weaving technique is unique.