Weaving The Way With The Carmichael Women

Weaving the Way is an exhibition on now at The University of Queensland Art Museum that makes visible the layers of meaning and wisdom carried in contemporary fibre works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Guest curated by Quandamooka woman, Freja Carmichael, the show runs until January 2020.

Our Brisbane team recently spent a morning with Freja, along with her sister, Elisa, and their mother, Sonja – both of whom are respected First Nations fibre artists. We learnt more about the show, their practices and their familial dedication to continuing cultural knowledge.

Jo Hoban

Fibre artist Elisa (Leecee) Carmichael. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

Elisa uses the coil technique to weave a mat out of raffia and lomandra. Her works are held in public and private institutions around Australia, including QAGOMA and the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

The Carmichael women (left to right: Sonja, Elisa and Freja). Photo – Mindi Cooke.

A shot from the Weaving the Way exhibition on now at The University of Queensland Art Museum, curated by Freja Carmichael. Photo – Carl Warner.

‘I hope to see the momentum of weaving practices continue into the future, creating strong pathways for the next generation,’ explains Freja. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

Treasured objects. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

The Carmichael women creating together. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

‘We see your hands weave with us’ (2018), Elisa Carmichael. Wire, sea rope and Ungaire. Photo – Louis Lim.

‘I create wherever I am staying at the time. I live in West End and have my studio at home but still manage to take over every room of the house. I also love to travel, and often stay with my family on Minjerribah. When I am travelling I always pack a bag of fibres to weave on the road,’ describes Elisa. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

One of Elisa’s delicate creations. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

‘As a mother and Quandamooka weaver I feel very proud seeing my daughters connecting with our traditional fibre art and contributing to the intergenerational continuity of our cultural practices,’ says Sonja. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

Sonja is also an artist working on a fibre-art focused Master of Philosophy at UQ. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

Elisa grinds ochre down to mix it into a paint which she uses to decorate fibre vessels. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

When they can, the Carmichael women enjoy catching up at Elisa’s home and workspace in West End, chatting about recent projects, hands busily weaving away. Photo – Mindi Cooke.

Jo Hoban
8th of August 2019

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.

Weaving The Way’ curated by Freja Carmichael
July 26th to January 18th, 2020 University of Queensland Art Museum
James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre Building
University Drive, St Lucia, Queensland

You can keep up to date with the UQ Art Museum, along with Freja, Leecee and Sonja’s creative journeys via Instagram @uqartmuseum @frejacarmichael@leeceecarmichael @sonniecarmichael.

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