I am thrilled to share a story about an incredible opportunity one of our current year 12 students and her family had some time ago… it certainly wraps up Reconciliation week at Linuwel School on an inspirational note…

In November 2017, current year 12 student Molly Mahoney and her family were invited to collaborate with Metis artist, Rosalie Fravell, who brought together nine artists from different Indigenous nations from across Canada and Australia for a project called Wrapped in Culture

Collaborating on the overall design Molly, her brother Mitch (Linuwel Alumni) along with their parents created a contemporary version of an Australian possum skin cloak and a North American Plains Aboriginal buffalo robe: two culturally distinct, yet similar, artistic traditions that historically held both sacred and practical purposes. Bringing such objects into the present through an engagement with global arts practices and modern materials demonstrates that Indigenous peoples are not fixed and relegated to the past but, rather, are part of diverse and dynamic living cultures.

WRAPPED IN CULTURE is a powerful reclamation project grounded in community engagement. The goal of this project was to encourage an inter-cultural sharing of material history to produce a work reflective of Indigenous traditions, cultures and communities, both past and present. Rosalie Favell invited Indigenous artists from Australia, Trawlwoolway, and parts of Canada to Ottawa to work collectively on a three-week art collaboration to create a Buffalo Robe (Canada) and Possum Skin Cloak (Australia). The artists were Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, BoonWurrung), Vicki West (Trawlwoolway), Mitch Mahoney (Boon Wurrung, Barkindji), Molly Mahoney (Boon Wurrung, Barkindji), Kerri Clarke (Boon Wurrung), Wade Mahoney (Barkindji), Barry Ace (Anishinaabe [Odawa]), Meryl McMaster (Cree), Adrian Stimson (Siksika [Blackfoot]) and Rosalie Favell (Métis).

The inspiration for this project was the work of Maree and three other Australian Aboriginal women artists who revived a traditional practice through the creation of possum skin cloaks. The cloak was an article of clothing much suited to the cooler climate of south-eastern and western Australia. The cloaks were sacred objects that conveyed history, stories, and culture. As well they were very practical; they were slept on, used to cradle babies, and bury the dead. However, the nineteenth century experienced a decline in their creation and use as they became replaced by European clothing and blankets. Eventually, the practice of making the cloaks died out, with only a few surviving in the Museum Victoria, National Museum of Canberra and several overseas’ collections. In 1999, the four artists saw the coats in the museum, and inspired by their deep historical significance, started making them in the community as a way to give its people back this traditional practice.

Similarly, the buffalo robe was significant and sacred to Indigenous peoples in Canada, particularly the Blackfoot. Also similar to a possum cloak, a robe was also created as a protective garment, and a means to convey cultural narratives and record historical events, as seen in winter count robes. The winter count robe was an important record of a band or tribe’s experiences, often acting as a long term calendar of their activities. Pictographs would recount important events that occurred each year.  And like a possum cloak, markings were made with natural dyes. As well, in addition to providing warmth and protection from the elements, buffalo robes were also used as blankets, in ceremonies, for healing, and as a record of individual or communal achievement.

The international joining of these two groups of artists to reclaim these lost traditions is an important recounting of material histories for both communities, past and present. The revival of this cultural practice brought back by Maree and the other women in Australia was elaborated upon in our project making the creation of the Possum Cloak for this project, historically significant. The possibility that as well, our project could encourage the revival of the practice of making of a Buffalo Robe, is also noteworthy.

The Possum Skin Cloak and Buffalo Robe will be at the Ottawa Art Gallery from April 12 – September 15, 2019. WRAPPED IN CULTURE will then go on to tour in other locations in Canada and Australia.

To learn more about Wrapped in Culture please visit wrappedinculture.ca

Congratulations Molly, Mitch, Kerri and Wade and thank you for allowing the school to share your inspiring story!

 Molly is currently creating her year 12 Major Project…