Nestled between the northern tip of Queensland and the borders of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the Torres Strait is home to a unique blend of cultures, reflected in its captivating art forms.
At its heart, Torres Strait Islander art has a deep connection with the sea, land, and sky, elements that are central to the Islanders' creation stories and spiritual beliefs. This connection is vividly expressed in various art forms, including printmaking, weaving, mask-making, and dance.
One of the most iconic symbols of Torres Strait Islander culture is the Dhari, a traditional feathered headdress. Worn by men during ceremonies and performances, the Dhari is a symbol of identity and heritage, proudly featured on the Torres Strait Islander flag.
Image: Australian Art Network. "The two Daris, which are major elements of the work, are titled, Torres Strait Fishtrap Warrior Headdress (the red Dari) and Torres Strait Land and Sea Fishtrap Dari Headdress (the green Dari)."
The art of the Torres Strait is also known for its dynamic sculptures and 'dance machines', created by artists like Ken Thaiday Snr, and Patrick Thaiday. These pieces are not just static artworks; they come alive with moving parts, perfectly synchronised with the rhythms of traditional dances. They tell stories of the past and present, blending elements like the hammerhead shark with historical events like WWII.
'Zugub' (Dance Machines). Patrick Thaiday, QAGOMA, 2011
Printmaking, especially linocut printing, is another area where Torres Strait Islander artists have made their mark. Artists like Dennis Nona and Alick Tipoti use intricate designs to narrate island myths and legends, often incorporating marine life motifs. These prints are not just visually stunning; they are storytelling canvases that bring to life the rich oral traditions of the Islanders.
'Zug Ngurr-Pai', Dennis Nona, 2020.
Weaving, too, plays a significant role in Torres Strait Islander culture. Once primarily for practical purposes, it has evolved into a form of artistic expression. Artists like Grace Lillian Lee use traditional techniques to create contemporary wearable art, blending cultural heritage with modern fashion sensibilities.
Grace Lillian Lee, Jetty Love collection, 2016, photo: Carly Keowski
Torres Strait Islander art is a living, breathing testament to the Islanders' connection to their land, sea, and ancestors. It's a celebration of their unique identity, a vibrant mix of history, spirituality, and artistic innovation.
Japingka Aboriginal Art Gallery. Art in the Torres Strait Islands. Retrieved from Japingka Aboriginal Art
Art Gallery of New South Wales. Art of the Torres Strait. Retrieved from Art Gallery of NSW
Gauatau Ural (2007) by Dennis Nona. This work depicts the magpie geese migration from Papua New Guinea to Badu. Courtesy of Aboriginal Art Network, 2015.
Zug Ngurrpai (2020) by Dennis Nona. This work depicts a young man hunting his first dugong. Courtesy of Art Mob, 2021.
Garland Magazine (2016). Nature and beyond – the artistic fashion of Grace Lillian Lee.Gauatau Ural (2007) by Dennis Nona. Aboriginal Art Network, 2015.