Shirley Macnamara / Indjalandji/Alyawarr / Australia b.1949 / Guutu (vessel) 14 2001 / Woven spinifex (Triodia pungens), emu feathers, nylon thread and synthetic polymer fixative / 24.3 x 22.5 x 21cm / Purchased 2002. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The artist

Shirley Macnamara
Guutu (vessel) 14 2001

On Display: QAG, Gallery 14

Shirley Macnamara uses natural and synthetic materials in her guutu (vessels), often combining spinifex from above the ground and ochre from below, and binding these together with nylon and glue. She gathers the lateral roots of the spiny plant and twines the strands into dense, tough forms, reminiscent of the vessels traditionally used for gathering and storing bush foods.

Guutu 14 incorporates the feathers of a dead emu found on the side of the road near Macnamara’s property. The soft interior lining of the vessel stands in contrast to its sturdy exterior and speaks of both vulnerability and protection.

Shirley Macnamara runs a thriving cattle property with her son and his family near Mount Isa in western Queensland. She has close ties with Camooweal and the surrounding country through her mother’s Indjalandji people, and with Alyawarr lands, particularly Lake Nash, through her late father.

Macnamara started painting in 1987, but began to experiment with weaving in 1992. She is well known for the guutu (vessels) she makes using combinations of synthetic and natural materials. In particular, she likes to work with spinifex (Triodia pungens), a tough, spikey native grass commonly found in the driest parts of Australia.

Spinifex’s long roots help keep the soil together so that the sand does not spread and create more desert. For Macnamara, spinifex embodies strength and utility, and she uses it to create tactile sculptures that reflect her surroundings, culture and history, as well as personal experiences and memories.

Discussion Questions

1. Macnamara’s key sculptural form is the guutu or vessel. Why do you think she continues to explore this form?

2. Describe how Macamara has used the spinifex both structurally and decoratively.

3. What other materials might be used to create a guutu?

Classroom Activities

Twist together strips of newspaper or brown paper to create paper cords. Make your own vessel using the paper cord, PVA glue and pegs to help hold the form. Start by making a spiral for the base and then gradually build up the sides to form the vessel.