A world-first collaboration between the First Nations people of Canada and Australia has brought to light the traditional cultural practices of robe and cloak making, and opened up a world of conversations to dive into.
The exhibition, Wrapped in Culture, was a project collaboration between 10 artists from Australia and Canada, and is to be held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery until July.
A buffalo robe and possum skin cloak are the centre pieces of the exhibition, with portrait photography of the artists and participants wearing the cloaks also included.
The cloaks and robes were developed in November 2017 over a course of three weeks in Ottawa, Canada.
The project was grounded in community engagement and encouraged the intercultural sharing of history to produce the works, which are reflective of First Nations traditions, culture and community.
By joining two groups of artists, a joint venture of rediscovering similar artistic traditions was born.
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The robes symbolised identity, family and culture, and created a kinship through the acts of making, sharing and teaching.
Artist Maree Clarke is a Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung woman and was involved heavily in the project.
"The opportunity to be involved in Wrapped in Culture has enabled us to reconnect with our culture by reviving a traditional practice," she said.
"The cloaks are sacred objects that conveyed history, stories, and culture. The practice of making cloaks was lost or lying dormant for many years, with only six surviving cloaks held in the museum collections around the world.
"In 1999, artists, Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm saw the cloaks in a museum. Inspired by their deep historical significance we started making them, initially for the opening of the Commonwealth Games, then we worked in communities in the south-east of Australia as a way to give this traditional practice back to our people."
Just as the possum skin cloak is significant to the First Nations people of Australia, the buffalo robe is as equally significant to the First Nations people of Canada.
The buffalo robe, and in particular the winter robe, was a protective garment and conveyed cultural and historical events.
"They organised their big buffalo skin ... we all had a go at wearing it, and oh my god it is so heavy and so warm," Clarke said.
The robes did not only provide warmth and a protection from the elements but were also used as blankets, during the process of healing, and in ceremonies.
"Our cloaks tell the story of who you are, your connection to country, culture, place, family, and theirs are more like recording different events in history," Clarke said.
The artists from Australia and Canada came up with design elements that would work for both items, and made sure all stories were heard.
"I think, after sharing our own personal stories anyway, we all have these similar journeys we have been on as First Nations people, so that was pretty amazing," she said.
"We decided to do topographical maps of everybody's traditional lands that were involved in it, and it is so beautiful.
"Then we each selected a totem that would represent us and our country and that's what people will see on there."
Fellow artist, Vicki West said each person also worked on a beaded medallion.
"I think every single day somebody was moved to tears with the power of the cloak, the journey, the coming together and sharing experiences. It was pretty incredible," Clarke said.
"For us, bringing this here, working with other First Nations people who have the same experiences as us, it's a pretty big wow factor," she said.
"We were able to travel [to Canada], experience their culture, their space, their place, and share stories."
However, the aim of the project was to not only revive cultural practices that had not been practiced since invasion, but to also bring the items into the 21st century with contemporary materials.
"Part of it was how do we bring it into the 21st century to make it look like this contemporary artwork," Clarke said.
West urged people to come and see the work and view the "beautiful, powerful, and spiritual journey" they went on while creating the exhibition.
QVMAG's general manager of creative arts and services Tracy Puklowski said the exhibit was an opportunity to celebrate the culture of First Nations artists across the world.
"In a week in which Australians reflect on our past, present and future, we invite our community to engage with our celebration of a revived traditional practice of cloak making," she said.
"The collaboration of the First Nations people from Canada and Australia is historically monumental, and QVMAG is proud to share this world-first union with our community."
Clarke hoped an exhibition like Wrapped in Culture would help start the conversations around Australia Day/Invasion Day.
"I also find through art it's easier to have those conversations," she said.
West said the exhibition reinforces the need for the continuation of cultural practices and recognition.
"A lot of time here in Tasmania we are still denied that we actually exist," she said.
"As we are in Victoria, which is crazy in the 21st century," Clarke said.
Wrapped in Culture will show at the Art Gallery at Royal Park from January 22 until July 18 this year.
The exhibit previously premiered in April 2019 at the Ottawa Art Gallery and spent a time touring Canadian museums and traditional lands.
Clarke and West will also run a Continuity of Culture workshop in Launceston from January 24-25 between 10.30am and 2.30pm as part of the exhibition opening.
Cost is $120 for general admission and $100 for Friends of QVMAG.
The workshop will be an immersive experience of First Nations culture, celebrating the art of possum skin practices.
Patrons will participate in a unique opportunity to understand the creative process of the artists and produce contemporary work from traditional practice.
People who sign up to the workshop will get to work on their own possum pelt.
"Meet us and meet other community members and experience what its like to work on a possum pelt," Clarke said.
The workshop is just one way the artist shares her cultural practices, as she also taught her nephew cloak making and now he teaches others.
"Part of our gig is passing on cultural knowledge and creative art practice to that next generation coming through," she said.
For more information on the exhibition qvmag.tas.gov.au/Exhibitions/2021-22/Wrapped-in-Culture.
For information on the workshop visit qvmag.tas.gov.au/Events/Continuity-of-Culture-Workshop.