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Pormpuraaw ghost nets enlightening new audiences

Pormpuraaw artists are taking the national and international stage by storm while working to protect their homelands.


Ghost net sculptures produced by artists in the remote Cape York community of Pormpuraaw are gaining recognition nationally and internationally, while also sharing the important message about the need to protect Queensland’s unique marine environment.

During 2015 and 2016 Pormpuraaw’s ghost net sculptures were showcased at Adelaide’s Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art and Australia: Defending the Oceans at the Heart of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Art exhibition in Monaco.

The Tarnanthi Festival aims to support Australian Indigenous artists through opportunities to create and present significant new works. Pormpuraaw was one of the 40 art centres across Australia invited to exhibit work at the festival in 2015.

In 2016, the Musée Océanographique featured an exhibition of works from Australian Indigenous artists. While the work of Pormpuraaw artists had featured in international exhibitions previously, this event was the first to significantly focus on Pormpuraaw artists, with three works by Sid Bruce Short Joe and Michael Norman presented.

Works exhibited were made from ghost nets; abandoned fishing nets (often illegal) found adrift in the oceans or washed up on local beaches which are leading to species destruction. 


October 2015 to April 2016

Michael Norman with his Dugong sculpture which was displayed in Monaco. Image courtesy: Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre


Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art 2015, Adelaide

Australia: Defending the Oceans at the Heart of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Arts, Monaco. 

Key stats

  • 2 exhibitions
  • 20 new works created
  • 12 Queensland artists involved
  • Estimated combined attendance 750,000

Arts Queensland contribution

$60,000 – Backing Indigenous Arts Fund   


  • Both events raised the national and international profile of Pormpuraaw artists and awareness of ghost nets, with works viewed by a combined estimated audience of 750,000.
  • This was the first opportunity for Pormpuraaw artists to attend an international showing of their work.  Art workers and artists from the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture centre continued to gain skills and hands-on experience in the selection, cataloging, transportation, marketing and selling of artwork at a major event. 

I gained an insight into the art business on the international level and all the complexities involved. I learned how respected Aboriginal art is in Europe. Artist

  • Traditional stories were shared with national and international audiences. This is a powerful and entertaining way to educate others about Australian Aboriginal culture and keep traditions alive as well as the impact of ghost nets on the environment.
  • The first international exhibition to solely feature artists from Pormpuraaw occurred at the Paris Aquarium from April to September 2017 in the Australia: Defending the Oceans exhibition.  Approximately 30 ghost net sculptures by Pormpuraaw artists were showcased as a result of their shared exhibiting in Monaco.


Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre booth at the Tarnanthi Festival. Image courtesy: Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre

Learnings and reflections

Arts and culture practices are one of the few important export industries for Pormpuraaw and play an important role in the community both socially and economically.

Staff from the Arts Centre reflected on the positive outcomes of being involved in these exhibitions for themselves and the community.

Both venues are building blocks to establishing our region, state and community [reputation] on a national and international stage. Pormpuraaw is a disadvantaged community with many struggles… .it is a glimmer of hope and inspiration for others.

What next?

Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre is in discussion with other venues both nationally and internationally to showcase the ghost net sculptures. These new opportunities will provide exposure to new audiences and networking opportunities with new institutions and venues.

Contact for further information

Paul Jakubowski




Sid Bruce Shortjoe being interviewed for national French television. Image courtesy: Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre