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A Milestone Retrospective Of Maree Clarke’s 30-Year Career

Art

The last time we featured Maree Clarke was way back in 2018, when she had fused pioneering technology with roadkill remnants (!) to make a new jewellery line for the NGV design store. Three years later and the Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung artist is in a different part of the gallery altogether, this time exhibiting a landmark retrospective documenting her three-decades-long career.

Ancestral Memories is the first exhibition to be held by the NGV by a living First Nations artist with family ties to the Country on which the gallery is built. It’s also Maree’s first retrospective. The exhibited pieces demonstrate her diverse, multidisciplinary practice – one that has fused materials and artistic modes together the same way she stitches together the ancestral traditions of the past with the generations of the future.

30th June, 2021

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Photo – Julian Kingma.

Photo – Julian Kingma.

Photo – Julian Kingma.

Photo – Julian Kingma.

Photo – Eugene Hyland

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories. Photo – Tom Ross

Photo – Eugene Hyland

Sasha Gattermayr
Wednesday 30th June 2021

‘I started off making jewellery using natural materials, and now to see my new 3D printed jewellery alongside pieces I made 30 years ago is a pretty big WOW factor for me.’ – Maree Clarke

Maree Clarke is a Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung woman who grew up in northwest Victoria on the banks of the Murray River, mainly in Mildura.

She is also a multidisciplinary artist and designer. Her practice spans photography, printmaking, sculpture, jewellery, video, glasswork and more. She is never confined to just one material – just like she is never confined to one time period or mode of expression. For Maree, humanity, stories, knowledge and community are malleable and moveable, transcending time and space through shared memory.

This continuity and entanglement have lead Maree’s artistic inquiries, underpinned by rigorous historical research, and culminating in her major retrospective at the NGV, Ancestral Memories, which opened last week.Pieces from her 30-year-career sit alongside new commissions (like a whopping 60-pelt possum skin cloak) and historical materials on loan from Museum Victoria and the Koorie Heritage Trust, that illuminate Maree’s deep engagement with traditional craft, ceremony, rituals and language of her ancestors.

To make the statuesque possum skin pelt, Maree worked with Koorie artists Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm to research and revive the traditional practice of cloak-making. She then engaged two of her nephews to make thread from kangaroo sinew, which she used to stitch the two sides of the enormous ceremonial cloak together. ‘I was thinking on a design that mapped my six decades… and that was looking too busy, so I decided to map countries that my family and I are connected to,’ explains Maree.

In contrast, Maree’s enormous glass eel traps see a traditional design interpreted with contemporary materials. Inspired by the woven conical mechanisms lowered into bodies of water to catch eels, the new large-scale sculptures are suspended from the roof to give the impression of floating in water.

Alongside these monumental works are Maree’s celebrated photo portrait series; contemporary jewellery made with kangaroo teeth, river reed and echidna quills; 3D printed sculpture; photographic holograms and more.

When asked what she hopes visitors understand when viewing her works beside artefacts from generations ago, Maree says: ‘That we are the oldest continuous living culture in the world, and that we are still strongly connected to our own traditional country, culture and place, even though we are living in urban environments. I feel privileged to be able to revive some of these elements in my artwork, and share that knowledge with the next generations; it’s one of the most incredible things you can do.’

We cannot wait to see this amazing, genre-defying exhibition.

‘Ancestral Memories’ will be open from 25th June – 3rd October 2021 at The Ian Potter Centre at NGV Australia. See more here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

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