Bangawarra Art Yarns - Connecting Elders

Bangawarra Art Yarns is a new program established by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) that launched this September. Sitting on Gadigal Country at Sydney’s Circular Quay, the MCA has created the program for older mob, Elders and their families dealing with dementia. The program aims to provide an engaging and collaborative space to yarn, connect and create. ‘Bangawarra’ is a Gadigal word meaning to ‘make’ or ‘create,’ as such the program incorporates hands-on creative art making activities in a culturally safe environment (MCA, 2021).

A collaborative painting created through Bangawarra Art Yarns. This painting expresses the deep importance of family and cultural connection. Courtesy of MCA, 2021.

Bangawarra Art Yarns is specifically designed for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. It creates space for sharing yarns, creative expression, respectful relationships, valuing knowledge and cultural connection. Many current art and dementia programs work with a singular participant or family member, whereas Art Yarns are really looking to facilitate cultural connection across family groups. For older Indigenous people, their connection to culture and country and sharing these cultural values with younger generations is incredibly important. That is why Art Yarns has created an inclusionary and family centred approach (NIT, 2021).

Dr Virginia Keft. Courtesy of MCA, 2021.

The project is headed up by proud Murriwarri woman Dr Virginia Keft. In an interview with MCA (2021) she says that she was initially drawn to the project because of her “personal and professional interest in dementia and my strong ties to my culture.” Several years ago, she began facilitating dance and rhythm workshops that focussed on enriching the lives of people living with dementia through music and movement. Through these workshops, she saw huge shifts in the mood and energy of the participants. She hopes to create a similar environment through the Art Yarn Program.

Programs such as Bangawarra Art Yarns are incredibly important for Indigenous communities. Dementia is nationally recognised as one of the largest growing health concerns across the Australian population. Current research shows that dementia is particularly prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While medical research about dementia prevention and management in Indigenous communities has begun, there is still a huge gap in services and programs that provide social, culturally appropriate wellbeing programs (MCA, 2021). Bangawarra Art Yarns is as such helping fill this gap.

Due to current COVID-19 restrictions in NSW the program is being run virtually. The project shows the universal nature of art, and its power to bring people together to share and heal. You can find out more about Bangawarra Art Yarns here.