First Peoples have used pelts in ceremonial and everyday life since time immemorial.
KHT has one of Australia’s most significant collections of South East Australian art and cultural belongings. It is from this collection that Second Skin: Essence of Country brings together 22 artists and presents works and cultural belongings that relate to the use of animal pelts in cultural practices.
For tens of thousands of years possum skin has been used in the production of cloaks to protect First Peoples from the wind, rain, snow and cold in South East Australia, but are also made for use in ceremony, making music, trade, to reflect cultural identity, map Country and pass cultural knowledge down through generations.
The exhibition will present underlying themes relating to cultural and spiritual resilience; pride in identity and community; connection to culture, community and Country.
Featured KHT Collection artists include William Barak (Wurundjeri); William Carter (Nharrang Clan of Wiradjuri Nation, and Pajong and Wallaballooa Clans of Ngunnawal Nation); Maree Clarke (Yorta Yorta, Wamba Wamba, Mutti Mutti, Boonwurrung); Wally Cooper (Yorta Yorta); Vicki Couzens (Keeray Woorrong Gunditjmara); Lee Darroch (Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti, Boon Wurrung); Mick Harding (Taungwurrung); Val Heap (Yorta Yorta); Nola Kerr (Yorta Yorta, Jaara); Kelly Koumalatsos (Wergaia, Wamba Wamba); Cassie Leatham (Taungurung); Gayle Maddigan (Wamba Wamba, Wertikgia); Teena Moffatt (Yorta Yorta, Gunaikurnai, Gunditjmara); Isobel Morphy-Walsh (Taun Wurrung); Kent Morris (Barkindji); Jenny Murray-Jones (Yorta Yorta); Mandy Nicholson (Wurundjeri, Dja Dja wurrung, Ngurai illum wurrung); Daryl Rose (Gunditjmara); Iluka Sax-Williams (Taungurung, Tibrean); Titta (Diana) Secombe (Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara); Len Tregonning (Gunai/Kurnai); Werrimul Art & Krafts; and Kevin Williams (Wiradjuri).
The rich knowledge embodied in these works ranging from cloaks, marngrook, arm bands, headdresses, necklaces, bags, vessels, baby carriers, and various forms of contemporary art and craft, continues to flourish throughout South East Australia.
Organic forms of cultural material act as powerful reminders of the natural life cycle of living things – from birth, through life, to death and the inevitable return to Country. Procuring pelts was part of a larger waste-free process of harnessing the resources of Country. Long after the rest of the animal has been utilised, the pelt continues to provide physical warmth and an ongoing physical connection to Country, culture and community.
Possum skin cloaks are also an important reminder and marker of time, both materially and in their method of production. Beginning with a small number of pelts at birth, the cloak grows as pelts are added throughout a person’s lifetime, and is decorated with cultural designs and symbols. The various designs and markings made on the cloak, in both pigments and engravings, tell the story of an individual’s life journey, forming a visual biography and link to cultural identity. The cloak often follows its owners’ journey through life, marking key events and milestones, to finally be laid to rest with them when they pass into the Dreaming.
One of the key turning points in the revival of the cultural practice took place in 1999, when artists Lee Darroch, Vicki Couzens and Treahna Hamm had the opportunity to view for the first time two cloaks held in the collection of Museum Victoria, the Gunditjmara Lake Condah cloak (c.1872) and the Yorta Yorta cloak from Maiden’s Punt (c.1853).
These two highly significant cloaks sparked a series of workshops and projects that led to a major revival of the cultural practice of possum skin cloak making.
The process of revitalising cultural practice and the various skills required to make cultural belongings out of pelts, has seen First Peoples Communities throughout South East Australia grow their knowledge and connection to each other, to culture and to Country. This has resulted in the design and production of cultural belongings that embrace new ways of making, based on old ways of knowing.
For more information visit: https://koorieheritagetrust.com.au/
Iluka Sax-Williams (Taungurung, Tibrean),
Kulin Connection, 2020,
pokerwork on kangaroo skin,
181 x 89 x 1cm.
Collection of Koorie Heritage Trust