Cultural shawls project continues for Aboriginal women

The Beautiful Shawl Project which aims to improve the breast screening experience for Aboriginal women using cultural screening shawls will continue with another four sites in 2020.

The locally and specially designed shawls will improve the breast screening experience for Aboriginal women, who will be sceened on the BreastScreen Victoria mobile screening service. The project will reach clients in Swan Hill, Kerang, Robinvale and Mildura.

The shawls aim to make sure women feel comfortable, respected and culturally safe by featuring detailed artwork by local Aboriginal artists that are unique to each community. Each Aboriginal woman who screens will receive a shawl to keep.
BreastScreen Victoria is working closely with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations across Victoria.

Winning artwork

The project included a competition to find artists for the shawls at each site. The winners are:

Sandra Kropinyeri for Swan Hill, whose artwork is called ‘Women’s Dance’. Sandra is a Wotjibolik, Taungurung, Muthi Muthi, Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri, and Wemba Wemba woman.

Tahlia Wise for Kerang whose artwork is called ‘Connection’. Tahlia is a Wemba Wemba, Barkindji and Wiradjuri woman.

Veronica Harradine, whose artwork is called ‘Protecting Me’.

Simone Spencer, a Barkindji woman, who artwork is titled ‘Embrace’.

Artist statements

In a statement about her artwork, Sandra explains that it represents the tradition of sharing stories through dance. The women are shown dancing together while individually telling their own stories, and there are different dances for the stories of their lives.

Tahlia explains her artwork is a story that shows we’re all connected and we’re always going to be connected to the land, and to the animals, in spirit. No matter how much time changes or how much we change we will always be here.

Veronica says the artwork is designed for Aboriginal women during the breast screening process when they may have feelings of vulnerability. “The central figure is a woman who is embracing and protecting other women, providing a feeling of comfort and security.”

Simone created her artwork to represent the beautiful figure of Aboriginal women. “The cross-hatching lines show her deep connection to culture with her breasts accentuated to encourage women not to have shame or embarrassment when it comes to breast health, and that it is all natural and beautiful.”

BreastScreen Victoria CEO Terri Smith said, “Aboriginal women have told us the shawls provide a culturally inclusive and positive breast screening experience. It is important we can reduce barriers to screening wherever possible because early detection saves lives."

"We’re proud our mobile screening service is reaching communities across Victoria and look forward to welcoming people to screen," Terri said.

The Beautiful Shawl Project is an award winning initiative that has visited nine communities since it started in October 2018 and has reached 176 Aboriginal women who have screened. Listen to our podcast episode about the Beautiful Shawl Project to learn more and watch The Beautiful Shawl Project documentary.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women typically screen at lower rates than the general population however, the number of Aboriginal women accessing breast screens continues to increase each year.