8 April 2024

Pormpuraaw artists use ghost net sculptures to promote environmental message

| Lyndon Keane
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Artists Christine Holroyd, Michael Norman and Syd Bruce Shortjoe prepare to inspect the Ghost Nets of Pormpuraaw exhibition at World Science Festival Brisbane. Photo: Supplied.

The incredible talent of 15 Pormpuraaw artists played an extremely visible role in promoting the importance of science during World Science Festival Brisbane (WSFB) in the Queensland capital in March.

The Queensland Museum event aims to engage audiences outside the traditional education frameworks to “create a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future”.

The Pormpuraaw artists showcased their ghost net creations, which not only shared their culture and creativity with WSFB visitors, but also reinforced the impact items like discarded fishing nets had on the environment.

Ghost nets are abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear in the marine environment, which drift in global currents and often finish their journey washed up as debris on beaches, and are recognised as a significant global environmental problem.

Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre manager Ellen Maugeri accompanied three of the artists – Syd Bruce Shortjoe, Michael Norman and Christine Holroyd – to Brisbane to see the exhibition in the flesh, and said WSFB has presented an irresistible opportunity to show the artists’ work to a larger audience.

“It is one of the ways we can get our artwork known to the larger community,” she explained.

“It allows our artists to tell their stories.

“Most artwork is made to represent traditional stories or totems, [so] it gives our artists and our art centre exposure, and helps generate traffic to our online store and sales.”

READ ALSO Longtime manager farewells Pormpuraaw Art Centre

Mr Shortjoe also participated in a panel discussion during WSFB, and Ms Maugeri said this and workshops run by the artists allowed the dangers of ghost nets to be fully shared with visitors to the exhibition.

“The exhibition was to showcase our ghost net sculptures and highlight the environmental damage that ghost nets do to the environment, and how vulnerable the Gulf and Cape are to them,” Ms Maugeri said.

“The artists held four workshops where participants made a jellyfish from ghost nets.”

The Ghost Nets of Pormpuraaw wowed crowds as it hung in the Whale Mall of the Queensland Museum. Photo: Queensland Museum.

The logistics of safely transporting the fragile artwork from Pormpuraaw to Brisbane was significant, with Ms Maugeri explaining the wet season played a role.

“We had to decide the final pieces for the show by November 2023, so that they could be transported to Cairns from Pormpuraaw before the road cut,” she said.

“They were held in storage in Cairns until February, when staff had to travel by plane to Cairns to pack and ship artwork via truck to Brisbane.”

READ ALSO Pormpuraaw artists recognised at CIAF

The trio of artists who made the trip to Brisbane said they were thrilled to see their work on display for a city audience, with Mr Shortjoe saying it was a bonus to combine art and a vital environmental message.

“It’s important to educate people about what ghost nets are doing to the sea life at Pormpuraaw,” he said.

“The art is also a good way to share the stories that have been passed down through songlines and dance from my ancestors.”

The local artists whose work was displayed were Steven Kepper, Eric Norman, Michael Norman, Cathrine Coleman, Lillian Jackson, Syd Bruce Shortjoe, Jones Holroyd, Christine Yantumba, Christine Holroyd, Mylene Holroyd, Jillian Holroyd, Jill Yantumba, Matilda Chillagoe, Michell Coleman and Mavis Benjamin.

Cheryl Leavy talks activism and the environmental impact of ghost nets with Pormpuraaw artist Syd Bruce Shortjoe during a panel discussion at the Queensland Museum during the World Science Festival Brisbane. Photo: Supplied.

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