Freja Carmichael, a Ngugi woman from the Quandamooka People of Moreton Bay, has been working as an independent curator based in Brisbane for the past six years. Having originally studied Creative Arts, Freja completed an internship at Queensland Museum in 2009-10 where she engaged with historical baskets and bags collected from Quandamooka, as well as fibre works from across Queensland, for the first time. ‘I was so moved by the stories and histories these works held and their diversity of plant materials and techniques,’ says Freja. ‘I realised a need for more First Nations curators and producers involved in the presentation and promotion of culture and stories. This inspired me to complete my Master of Museum Studies at UQ, where I focused on Indigenous Art curatorship.’
Now, in 2019, things have come full circle and Freja has curated an exhibition at the UQ Art Museum. Weaving the Way has involved researching the UQ Art Collection and selecting works that represented fibre stories from across Queensland both directly and indirectly through diverse mediums. The show includes three of her sister Elisa’s works that have been acquired by the museum in recent years.
Elisa (known to many as Leecee) has also pursued a creative career working as an artist since completing a Master of Fine Art in Fashion at the Queensland University of Technology. Elisa has exhibited internationally and presented her research at Oxford University. Her practice honours her cultural heritage by incorporating materials collected from Country, embracing traditional techniques and expressing contemporary adaptations, through the mediums of painting, weaving and textiles.
The women’s mother, Sonja, lives on Minjerribah, also called North Stradbroke Island – a sub-tropical island 30km southeast of Brisbane and part of Quandamooka Country. Sonja is also an artist working on a fibre-art focused Master of Philosophy at UQ. Sonja gathers Ungaire (swamp reeds), grass fibres, along with nets, ropes, plastics and other marine debris that has washed up on Minjerribah’s shores and creates handwoven baskets using traditional techniques. Her works reflect environmental and cultural concerns around the preservation of the natural world and the regeneration of First Nations cultural practices.
For all three women, weaving and its advocacy has become central to their deep-rooted connectedness to Country, and reflects their family’s spiritual connections with the land and seas of Minjerribah. ‘It’s very inspiring being a family of passionate artists and curators. Although we each have our own individual art practices and work on separate exciting projects, we often come together collaboratively in a way that brings collective energy!’ describes Sonja.