morning glories at NGV Australia

Maree Clarke “Me in Mourning”

My city, Melbourne, went back into lockdown in July.  For those who counted, it was lockdown number six.  My city, Melbourne, gained the infamous title of “the world’s most locked down city”.  In these last weeks, we have been slowly re-emerging, some cautiously, some oh-so-ready to bounce back into Melbourne’s lifestyle, welcome a New Year (it’s not that long ago we were “the world’s most liveable city” several times over).

I’d especially missed our National Gallery of Victoria. Back in July, we’d planned to view the Maree Clarke exhibition, Ancestral Memories.  Happily, the exhibition is still on.  Of equal interest, a new exhibition Found and Gathered, a coupling of works by Rosalie Gascoigne and Lorraine Connelly-Northey. Two exhibitions, three women artists, so grounded in their vision, respectful of the environment, heritage and belonging.

We went to NGV Australia early, at ‘doors open’, knowing there would be few people, safety in space in these Covid times. On entering the foyer, there’s an immediate sense of Found and Gathered as you walk around Connelly-Northey’s Fish trap, made from corrugated irons strips on rings of wire.

Ground floor, Found and Gathered.  My immediate response was to the NGV’S curation and concept in such a magical pairing of artists. Stepping into each gallery space, the impact is of the ‘whole’, then moving around the room, looking closer to explore the re-cycled textures and elements, their meanings.

Photos: Gallery foyer, Connelly-Northey’s “Fish trap”; Gascoigne’s “Takeover bid” against the rear wall; Connelly-Northey “A Possum Skin Cloak: Hunter’s Duck Net”;  detail as Ducks fly into the “Hunter’s Duck Net”;  Gascoigne’s “Feathered Fence” (swan feathers) in foreground, “Afternoon” on rear wall.

Rosalie Gascoigne (1917–1999) was born in New Zealand, where she went to Auckland University, studying English, French, Latin, Greek and Mathematics, graduating with a BA.  She married an astronomer, they moved to the Mt Stromlo Observatory outside Canberra, Australia. With no formal arts training, it was here Gascoigne explored the landscape, searching for discarded materials, developing her new-found creativity. It wasn’t until she was 57 that Rosalie exhibited and, in 1982, she became the first female artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.

Born in Swan Hill, Victoria, on the traditional lands of the Wamba Wamba people, Lorraine Connelly-Northey gathers bits and pieces, re-purposing to reference her Indigenous traditions. Her sculptural works include reflections of traditional weaving techniques and cultural objects. Throughout, there is a strong presence of Aboriginal commitment to, and custodianship of, Country.

Photos: Gascoigne’s “Suddenly the Lake”;  Connelly-Northey’s “A Possum Skin Cloak: On Country”  sculpture is installed across two walls. Details from different viewpoints; some of Connelly-Northey’s Lap Laps (groin covers) woven from coarse and sometimes sharp materials, to bring attention to the ‘barbed’ sexual relations between Aboriginal women and Post-European settlers.

Maree Clarke’s exhibition Ancestral Memories is a deeply intimate experience. A Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung woman, it is the first major retrospective of Clarke’s works across three decades, comprising a range of mediums and materials.

Most striking, and throughout, are 84 black/white photographic portraits Ritual and Ceremony. White ochre is painted on the faces and hair of the women, and on the eyes and t-shirts of the men. This ceremonial body painting represents the mourning practises of Aboriginal people along the Murray-Darling rivers.

Jewellery, printmaking, sculpture, glass and video works are all within Ancestral Memories. It feels sacred, reverent to be in the midst of such personal engagement with the artist’s ancestry.

Photos: “Ritual and Ceremony”; “River reed necklace set”; “Ancestral memory I and II”; “Long Journey Home”; “Me in Mourning”. 

Found & Gathered exhibition is on at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square, until 20 February.  There’s a virtual tour
Ancestral Memories – Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square, Level 3, Indigenous Art, until 6 February

Photo: visitors at Found and Gathered exhibition

©   2022 Text and photographs Pamela Reid/tPRo