New Koorie exhibition shows modern take on deep tradition

19 February, 2014

Kelly Koumalatsos
Kelly Koumalatsos
Image: Kimberley Moulton
Source: Kimberley Moulton

Contemporary cultural expression and timeless connections are explored in a new art exhibition by Koorie artist Kelly Koumalatsos, opening at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum on 7 March 2014.

Wuregwurung: Speaking Together is a contemporary expression of Koorie culture that reveals a deep connection to tradition,” said Ms Caroline Martin, Manager of Bunjilaka. “It aims to bring together art, history, and politics.” The idea of speaking together flows freely through the exhibition, and while each work is different, the commonality expressed through Kelly’s Koorie identity and the resilience of her Ancestors, connects them.”

Kelly Koumalatsos, who is from the Wergaia and Wemba Wemba people of northwest Victoria, has been exhibiting her work for almost twenty years. Through her past sculpture, painting and printmaking work, she has contributed to a renaissance of south-eastern Koorie cultural heritage, including significant work producing possum skin cloaks and screen printing with possum fur.

“Possum skin cloaks were traditionally made by Koorie people – both as a significant article of clothing and a marker of personal identity and status,” said Ms Martin. “A cloak was first made for the wearer after birth, and more pelts were added as the person grew to adulthood.”

Wuregwurung: Speaking Together challenges the definition of contemporary cultural practice and highlights the diverse aesthetic of Victorian Koorie expression.

“I am deeply moved by the process of creating cloaks as I consider making them and working with possum to be an act of reclaiming my heritage,” said Ms Koumalatsos. “It is particularly important as Aboriginal people were prevented from practising their culture. For me, making these cloaks is an act of living my sovereignty.”

In the development of the exhibition, Koumalatsos spent time researching Museum Victoria’s historical photographic collection. Her interest in the images of Koorie people in possum skin cloaks informed the works in Speaking Together, which include prints on paper, fabric and also historical images printed onto blankets.

“Kelly has been an integral part of the revival of cultural practices for our community,” said Ms Martin. “We’re so proud that images from our historical collection have been interpreted in a modern way; Kelly’s work shares in our history as Koorie people and expresses who we are and who she is in a new and dynamic way.”

Wuregwurung: Speaking Together by Kelly Koumalatsos
Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum
Nicholson Street, Carlton
7 March to 22 June 2014
Included with Museum entry (adults $10, children and concessions FREE)