MAREE CLARKE IS A YORTA YORTA/WAMBA WAMBA/MUTTI MUTTI/BOONWURRUNG WOMAN WHO GREW UP IN NORTHWEST VICTORIA, MAINLY IN MILDURA, ON THE BANKS OF THE MURRAY RIVER. MAREE HAS BEEN A PRACTICING ARTIST LIVING AND WORKING IN MELBOURNE FOR THE LAST THREE DECADES.
My art is about regenerating cultural practises, making people aware of, you know, our culture, and that we are a really strong culture, and that we haven't lost anything; I think they've just been, some of these practises have been laying dormant for a while.” — MAREE CLAKE A huge digital projection of the Spirit Eel will weave its way along the facade of Hamer Hall for the second time this July. Titled Ancestral Memory, it will give Victorians another opportunity to watch the story of the Spirit Eel’s journey after the first unveiling was marred by a pandemic lockdown.
The physical manifestation of the Spirit Eel in Ancestral Memory was created by First Nations interdisciplinary artist Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Yorta Yorta/Boon Wurrung/Wamba Wamba) and emerging artist Mitch Mahoney (Boon Wurrung/Barkindji). “Both Mitch and I are super excited that so many people are going to see it this time around. Especially for young ones to see work on this scale that you can dream as big as you can dream, and it can end up somewhere like Hamer Hall. I love that!” says Clarke. For Ancestral Memory, Clarke collaborates with her nephew to tell the mysterious journey of the short-finned eel of the Birrarung and Maribyrnong River systems as it crosses land, river and sea, taking on many forms on its path to maturity. “All of my practice is about the revitalisation and celebration of South-Eastern Aboriginal culture. I try to create works that are designed to spark interest and educate people. Where I can, I like to create works that are collaborative and bring the public into an art space to learn and be involved in the art making process,” said Mahoney. For the peoples of the Kulin Nation the eel is a protector spirit, food source, seasonal marker and timekeeper. The metaphor of the Spirit Eel connects time and place, a story of resilience and adaptation that has been pushed below the surface but never lost.
This remounting provides First Nations communities with a new connection to the Hamer Hall site honouring their custodianship of the land and gives greater visibility to their cultural heritage. Victorians are invited to visit Hamer Hall every day throughout July from sundown until midnight to see the visual spectacle in its finest form to learn and reflect on one of the greatest Aboriginal stories. Maree Clarke is a pivotal figure in the reclamation of southeast Australian Aboriginal art practices, reviving elements of Aboriginal culture that were lost – or laying dormant – over the period of colonisation, as well as a leader in nurturing and promoting the diversity of contemporary southeast Aboriginal artists. Maree’s continuing desire to affirm and reconnect with her cultural heritage has seen her revification of the traditional possum skin cloaks, together with the production of contemporary designs of kangaroo teeth necklaces, river reed necklaces and string headbands adorned with kangaroo teeth and echidna quills, in both traditional and contemporary materials such as glass and 3D printing.
Maree Clarke’s multi media installations of photography including lenticular prints, 3D photographs and photographic holograms as well as painting, sculpture and video installation further explore the customary ceremonies, rituals and language of her ancestors and reveal her long held ambitions to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue about the ongoing effects of colonisation, while simultaneously providing space for the Aboriginal community to engage with and ‘mourn’ the impact of dispossession and loss. Maree is known for her open and collaborative approach to cultural practice. She consistently works in intergenerational collaboration to revive dormant cultural knowledge – and uses technology to bring new audiences to contemporary southeast Aboriginal arts.
Maree Clarke has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, and in 2021 she was the subject of a major survey exhibition Maree Clarke – Ancestral Memories at the National Gallery of Victoria. Other recent exhibitions includeTarnanthi, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2021), The National, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney (2021), Reversible Destiny, Tokyo Photographic Museum, Tokyo Japan (2021) and the King Wood Mallesons Contemporary Art Prize, for which she was awarded the Victorian Artist award. In 2020 she was awarded the Linewide Commission for the Metro Tunnel project (current) and is the recipient of the 2020 Australia Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship.