Learn about the ancient art of pearl shell carving
Hear the stories that relate to the artwork
Visit the artists workshop and watch the carving demonstrations
Bruce Wiggan is a Bardi man born at the mission on Iwany (Sunday Island), off the coast of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome, Western Australia.
As a senior man of the Bardi tribe that come from the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, Bruce shares custodianship of many of the sacred and ceremonial stories associated with the Bardi people and their ocean culture.
Bruce is an artist and pearl shell carver. Highly prized as ornaments and ceremonial objects, goowarn (pearl shells) were exchanged along a vast system of inland trade routes that stretched from the Kimberley region in north Western Australia to central and southern Australia.
Only Aboriginal men from the Kimberley region who were initiated to the highest degree wore decorated pearl shell, or Riji, during ceremonies. These shell were incised with sacred patterns which could be tribal insignia or have other meanings or stories to tell or pass on. Riji were associated with water, spiritual powers and healing due to the luminous shimmering quality of their surfaces.
Contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Bruce Wiggan continue to maintain cultural customs by engraving geometric or figurative designs on prepared goowarn, followed by a mixture of ochre or charcoal and resin or fat, which is rubbed into the grooves.
Bruce feels that it is his role to continue and pass down the art of traditional pearl shell carving and the knowledge of ceremonial culture and traditions that goes with this. Through his art, he is able to pass on his own family stories in a contemporary style.