Ancestral Memories speaks of reclamation of art and cultural practices


Maree Clarke, Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung born 1961, 'Ancestral Memory', 2019, glass, steel dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne © the artists Photo: Christian Capurro

Ancestral Memories is the first major retrospective of Melbourne-based artist and designer, Maree Clarke, who is a Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung woman.


Clarke is a pivotal figure in the reclamation of south-east Australian Aboriginal art and cultural practices and has a passion for reviving and sharing elements of Aboriginal culture that were lost – or lying dormant – as a consequence of colonisation.


Covering more than three decades of artistic output, the exhibition traverses Clarke’s multidisciplinary practice across photography, printmaking, sculpture, jewellery, video, glass and more. Documenting Clarke’s life as told through her art, the exhibition includes rarely-seen black-and-white photographs that bring to life key figures and events in Melbourne during the 1990s, through to her most accomplished and critically-acclaimed work of recent years, including major mixed media installations, contemporary jewellery incorporating kangaroo-teeth, river reed and echidna quills, through to lenticular prints and photographic holograms.


Reflecting Clarke’s continuing desire to affirm and reconnect with her cultural heritage, the exhibition displays her contemporary artworks alongside key loans of historical material from Museum Victoria, highlighting her deep engagement with and reverence for the customary ceremonies, rituals, objects and language of her ancestors.


A central feature of the exhibition is Clarke’s dramatic glass eel traps, Ancestral Memory I & II, 2019. Taking formal reference from traditional woven eel traps, these suspended sculptures simultaneously evoke the ancient and the contemporary, highlighting Clarke’s unique ability to bring tradition into the present. Conical in shape, the traps were designed to capture river eels, which swam into the opening and then became lodged in the narrow tip.


Photos (left to right): 'Jack Charles', 'Desiree Clark', 'Adrian Baxter', 'Maree Clarke', printed 2018, inkjet print.


Also on display is a large-scale, 60-pelt possum-skin cloak by Clarke, commissioned especially for this exhibition by the NGV. The work draws on Clarke’s deep cultural knowledge amassed through the state-wide possum-skin cloak reclamation project with fellow Koorie artists, including Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm. By meticulously researching traditional designs and the practice of cloak making, Clarke and her fellow artists helped to revive this important garment making skills, producing the first possum-skin cloaks in Victoria for the first time in over 150 years. Clarke’s never-before-seen contemporary cloak is displayed alongside an incredibly rare historical example, illuminating the synergies between past and present, as well as the rigour that underpins Clarke’s creative process.


A further highlight is Clarke’s monumental photographic series, Ritual and Ceremony, 2013, which comprises 84 portraits of prominent Aboriginal community figures painted with white ochre.


Be sure to see Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories before it ends this October!


DETAILS

Location: The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia - Federation Square

Dates: 25 June - 3 October 2021

Cost: Entry is free

NGV website