Maree Clarke is a well-respected figure of the south-eastern Australian Aboriginal community for not only her inspirational work supporting Aboriginal artists but also for her own successful career as a visual artist. In her practise she works to revive elements of Aboriginal culture that were lost in the period of colonisation and use art as a tool to heal some of our country’s deepest wounds.
“Ritual and Ceremony,” is her first solo exhibition and is on display in the Bunjilaka Aborignial Cultural Centre, which is attached to the Melbourne Museum, until October 30th, 2011. The exhibition explores the traditional ceremonies of grief and mourning of her Victorian Aboriginal ancestors. It originates from Clarke’s fascination with the Kopi, a mourning cap made out of gypsum that was worn when a loved one or significant clan member passed away.
A Kopi could weigh up to 7kg and the length of time they would be worn depended on the person’s closeness to the deceased. When the mourning period was over the Kopi would be placed on the person’s grave.
“Ritual and Ceremony” works with 38 Aboriginal women and 45 men. The powerful and dramatic images created speak of loss yet, at the same time, the power of art to heal.
The exhibition includes written statements by participants, they talk about their grief and reflect on the Kopi as a tool of healing. The overall sentiment was one of loss but, at the same time, gratitude, for the opportunity the Kopi gave them to properly mourn. Clarke made her own Kopis and laid them on an installation of red dirt and trees in the exhibition. They sit together, not mourning an individual, but as symbol of collective grief for the lost people, languages, land and culture.
Other examples of Clarke’s work include the Possum Skin Cloak project, included as part of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, as well as jewelry she makes with her young relatives out of traditional materials, affirming her commitment to traditional customs and their continuation through generations.