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Review: They Shield Us/Memory Mixtape/Land Currents, Koorie Heritage Trust (VIC)

Vanessa Francesca

Three exhibitions at Koorie Heritage Trust examine the art of cartography, Blak cinema, and contemporary adornment.
Review: They Shield Us/Memory Mixtape/Land Currents, Koorie Heritage Trust (VIC)

Maddi Moser, River Dreaming. Image courtesy of the artist.

In the heart of Melbourne’s Federation Square, the Koorie Heritage Trust has been furnishing Australian art lovers with Indigenous culture for nearly 35 years. The Trust holds over five exhibitions a year and currently it is presenting three simultaneous exhibitions: They Shield Us, Memory Mixtape and Land Currents.

The centrepiece of the three exhibitions is a vast array of wearable contemporary and historical jewellery, clothing and body adornments. From emu feather skirts and headbands to possum skin cloaks and kangaroo tooth necklaces, They Shield Us give a sense of Indigenous culture at its most ancient, where the spiritual and the practical intertwine to produce an enduring sense of the everyday art and culture. To create the body adornments, six Indigenous artists – Djirri Djirri Dance Group, Isobel Morphy-Walsh, Laura Thompson, Lisa Waup, Marilyne Nicholls and Yaraan Bundle – have responded to the Trust’s existing collection, producing a range of accessories that combine traditional materials and a modern, wearable feel. The skirts and headbands, cloaks and necklaces have then been photographed on Indigenous models, and these photographs form the wallpaper for this section of the exhibition. The images by Michael Jalaru Photography are fierce, sceptical, sensual, and assertive, creating a strong impression of contemporary Indigenous life.

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Modern life is the subject of Memory Mixtape, an exhibition of Blak films that ‘contest official histories, celebrate ancestral embodiment, and are documents for change’. Curated by trawlwoolway artist and educator Neika Lehman, this collection of films varies in subject from colonial violence in Sally Riley’s Confessions of a Headhunter (2000) to the richness of lost languages in Erica Glynn’s A Walk With Words: The Poetry of Romaine Moreton (2000) while Steve Thomas’s Black Man’s Houses (1992) explores ongoing segregation in Tasmania. Presented in a quiet and comfortable viewing space, Memory Mixtape is an oasis of sometimes bitter grief and contemplation in the centre of bustling city life.

Finally, in Land Currents Wodonga-based Taungurung artist Maddi Moser conveys her love of country and her ethos that land is to share, not to own, through a series of digital prints on paper that bring a contemporary perspective to environmental themes. These images present a Taungurung perspective to mapping, bringing a spirit of celebration to the act of cartography or environmental photography, visually representing the energy that exists in the earth and connects land and water.

From my perspective as a settler migrant, these three exhibitions at Koorie Heritage Trust bring the ancient authority of Indigenous culture to the multicultural postmodernity of Federation Square, demonstrating the nuance and sophistication of contemporary Indigenous culture.

 4.5 stars out of 5 ★★★★☆

They Shield Us / Memory Mixtape / Land Currents
They Shield Us
and Memory Mixtape 3 August-29 September 2019
Land Currents 27 July-22 September 2019
Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne VIC
Free admission

About the author

Vanessa Francesca is a writer living in Melbourne. She has an Arts (Honours) degree in English Literature. She has previously written for community papers and interviewed guests on community radio. She was a writer and producer for The Melbourne Model Musical, which ran for two seasons at the comedy festival. She is currently a fiction reader for Overland, a Literary Associate with MKA: The Theatre of New Writing, and a presenter on Arts Weekly at 3MBS. She is working on a novel and a collection of short stories.