Words: Megan Robson
Over the last thirty years, Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, Boonwurrung and Wamba Wamba artist Maree Clarke has been a leading figure in the reclamation and celebration of south-east Aboriginal art practices. Working across a range of disciplines including jewellery, photography, sculpture and video, Clarke brings together traditional materials with contemporary technologies to find new ways to tell stories and share culture. Clarke often speaks of the importance of community building, noting that this is the driving force behind her practice. She frequently brings her family along on the creative journey, from collecting materials on Country through to preparing and working with delicate objects such as kangaroo teeth and echidna quills.
Currently on display at the National Gallery of Victoria is the artist’s major survey Ancestral Memories. Drawing on public and private collections, the exhibition brings together works from across Clarke’s extensive career, from early jewellery pieces created in the 1980s through to recent sculptures, such as the large-scale glass eel traps Ancestral Memory I & II, 2019. Historic objects loaned from Museums Victoria are presented alongside Clarke’s works, illustrating the strength and lineage of culture. A key highlight is Walert – gum barerarerungar, 2021, a striking 63-pelt possum skin cloak illustrated with a map representing the artist’s ancestral connection to language groups and places.
In 2021, Clarke presented a significant collection of body adornment artworks created over the last ten years for The National at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney. The exhibition included her supersized river reed necklaces measuring up to 40-metres in length.
Most recently, Clarke was commissioned to create a series of lenticular lightboxes in collaboration with Yorta Yorta Elders at significant sites along the Kaiela (Goulburn River). Clarke is also working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners on a major public artwork for Melbourne’s new Metro Tunnel underground stations.
Featured image above: Maree Clarke, Photograph of Jacob, 2020. Photograph mounted on dibond and framed under glass, 180 x 100cm. Courtesy: the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne.
Featured image below: Installation view of Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne. Photo: Tom Ross. Courtesy: the artist and NGV, Melbourne.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 99, January-March 2022.