The Story Of Cynthia And Tiny: A Handwoven Masterpiece

A still from the film

Imagine a world where an acclaimed animator from the bustling city and a gifted weaver from a remote desert community come together, accompanied by a small canine
companion named Tiny, whose heart knows no bounds. In this realm, magic takes shape, pure and simple.

Ngayuku Papa: Tiny (My Dog: Tiny) is a captivating narrative that intertwines the essence of community life with the beauty of an extraordinary friendship between a remarkable woman and her loyal canine companion, Tiny. Through the ingenious medium of Tjanpi, a word that means “desert grass” in the Pitjantjatjara language, Cynthia Burke weaves together the story of her cherished dog, Tiny. Together, they traverse the tapestry of life—sharing moments, embarking on journeys, nurturing offspring, and
leaving an indelible mark on their surroundings.

Cynthia Burke the artist
Cynthia Burke the Artist

To bring this enchanting tale to life, Tjanpi artists from the vibrant Warakurna community in Western Australia joined forces with the visionary animator, Jonathan Daw. This collaborative effort, driven by the artists themselves, employed stop-motion animation techniques using Tjanpi sculptures, interwoven with footage of the storyteller, Cynthia, sharing her heartfelt narration. The seamless connection between Tiny and Cynthia produces an extraordinary outcome, one that exudes charm and uniqueness in equal measure.

A still from the film
A ‘still’ from the film ‘Ngayuku Papa: Tiny (My Dog: Tiny)’

Cynthia and Tiny hold an irreplaceable spot within the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a dynamic social enterprise operating under the umbrella of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC). The establishment of NPYWC can be traced back to the late 1970s, when the struggles for land rights were at the forefront. Recognising that unity would grant them greater strength, a louder voice, and the power to enhance the lives of women and children within their territories, the women of the community came together to advocate for systemic change. Over time, NPYWC evolved from an advocacy service into a prominent Indigenous-led organisation, empowering and serving 26 desert communities on the tri-state border of Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia through a wide array of health, social, and cultural

The roots of Tjanpi trace back to 1995 when NPYWC initiated a series of basket- making workshops in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of Western Australia. Motivated by the desire to secure meaningful and culturally appropriate employment on their ancestral lands, women sought to better provide for their families. Drawing from a rich heritage of using natural fibres to craft ceremonial and utilitarian objects, these women quickly embraced the art of coiled basketry and generously shared their newfound techniques with relatives and friends in neighbouring communities. It didn’t take long for them to embark on experimental endeavours, sculpting breathtaking forms from the very fibres that surrounded them.

A 'still' from the film portraying Cynthia and her dog 'Tiny'
A ‘still’ from the film portraying Cynthia and her dog ‘Tiny’

Today, over 400 women across three states devote their creativity to producing extraordinary contemporary fibre art, using locally sourced grasses. The art of working with fibre has become an inseparable part of the Central and Western Desert culture, symbolising the spirit of resilience and ingenuity.

Interwoven within the vibrant tapestry of this thriving community lies a cast of canine companions that freely roam the lands. These inquisitive creatures, a delightful medley of mixed breeds, hold a special place in the hearts of desert dwellers. Cherished members of the community, they bring joy, companionship, and a wealth of inspiration for stories waiting to be told.

In the realm where Cynthia and Tiny reside, the boundaries between the realms of art, community, and the natural world blur, giving birth to an extraordinary tale. It is a story that celebrates friendship, resilience, and the profound connection that can be forged between human and animal. Through the hands of gifted weavers and the imagination of a visionary animator, Cynthia and Tiny’s narrative illuminates the magic that lies within the embrace of community, the essence of art, and the unconditional love that emanates from the heart of a tiny dog with a colossal spirit.

Cynthia Burke is a multi-disciplinary Ngaanyatjarra artist and creative practitioner. She is a fibre artist, painter and sculptor, whose works have been exhibited throughout Australia and internationally. She has worked as a camera operator and radio announcer, presenting a weekly radio program of local music and news. She is the recipient of multiple artistic and broadcast awards. Not only does Cynthia narrate and feature in the film, she co-directed it. She is also the proud dog-mum to her beloved pup Tiny.

You can watch this masterpiece of a film by Streaming the Top Dog 2023 program to any of your devices right here –

AND get your tickets for Top Dog 2024 coming soon to a screen near you! Tickets here-

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