Happy objects is an Australian Design Centre exhibition exploring the value of objects in our lives. We asked Anita Johnson to share with us a 'happy object' and tell us a story about this object.
This is a chumpi. It is a belt that is worn around the waist. It was spun, dyed and woven by hand by a young Quechua woman on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca in Peru. It depicts the changing of the seasons and the planting and harvesting cycles associated with them.
The Quechua people of Taquile Island maintain traditional textile practices. Knitting is exclusively a male skill, and all the boys learn it from early childhood. The men knit as they walk around the island. The women spin wool on a drop spindle while walking along, and then hand dye it using vegetables and minerals in order to weave. The women weave the chumpi, which are wide belts with woven designs that are worn by everyone in their community. The skill of these weavings is incredibly fine and detailed. Such great care and so much time goes into the making of each chumpi. It is a rare thing to see hand textile skills as central to life and valued so highly.
Eamon and I bought this particular chumpi directly from the young woman that had woven it. We visited her house and had a cup of tea with her family, who were such beautiful people. They were very excited to sell this chumpi as it would provide financially for them for the rest of the year. Eamon and I backpacked, camped and hiked in South America for six months and it was a wonderful time for both of us. This textile holds meaning for me as it connects me to my personal memories of a place at a particular point in time, but it also holds testimony to a woman’s care, skill and time taken in making something really well. That is something to be treasured.
Anita Johnson is a New South Wales artist who works in sculpture and textiles. Her exhibition Come To Me Without A Word was held in early 2021 at Australian Design Centre.