New take on historic Indigenous practice now showing at State Library

In a new major exhibition at State Library of Queensland, an age-old cloak-making technique has been revitalised and given a contemporary spin.

Art of the Skins, a large-scale project initiated by Wathaurung woman Carol McGregor and Taungwurrung-Yorta Yorta woman Glennys Briggs, invites visitors to explore the beauty, tradition and artistry of possum skin cloaks through contemporary community works.

Six intricately decorated and meticulously stitched together cloaks made from possum skins form the cornerstone of the exhibition, which reveals rich stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, past and present.

Inspired by a practice last known to be active around 150 years ago, the cloaks were created with the help of more than 120 Indigenous artists and community members using a combination of contemporary and traditional techniques.

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said the exhibition showcases the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and continues a rich legacy for future generations.

“There’s been broad community support for this project with internationally renowned Aboriginal artists, Elders, children, families and community leaders involved in the creation of the cloaks,” Ms Enoch said.

“Community members with ties to the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane have banded together to contribute to this exhibition – making it one of the largest resurgence projects of its kind in this country.”

Researcher Carol McGregor, who coordinated the cloak-making workshops, said the project came about after creating and wearing her family’s possum skin cloak as a way to connect to her great-grandmother.

Ms McGregor said she saw the cloaks as authoritative mediums for healing, cultural renewal and reclamation and began investigating the material culture of possum skin cloaks and rugs in South East Queensland.

“It then became essential to share and empower the whole community with this knowledge along with the skills involved with cloak making,” she said.

“The need to tell our own stories is an important form of resistance and this artform celebrates our stories and survival,” she said.

Exhibition curator, Freja Carmichael, a descendant of the Ngugi people, Quandamooka Country, said the cloaks form an important oral history for Aboriginal communities.

“The cloaks embody an array of cultural stories – each important and unique – reinforcing that our people maintain a strong connection to family and environment,” Ms Carmichael said.

“The collaborative process has also provided Indigenous communities an opportunity to share, learn and create stories of Country together.

Art of the Skins will be an engaging exhibition and events program which supports State Library’s 2016 theme of belonging.”

Visitors to the exhibition will get up close and personal with the stories and cultural identity that are captured and imprinted into this unique form of clothing.

The possum skin cloaks will be gifted to the communities who created them at a ceremony held after the exhibition closes.

Possum skins used in the project are ethically sourced from New Zealand.

Art of the Skins is free and open in SLQ gallery and kuril dhagun at State Library of Queensland until 20 November. Visit www.slq.qld.gov.au/belonging for more details.

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