Wuregwurung, which means "speaking together", shares a series of works by Wergaia/Wemba Wemba artist Kelly Koumalatsos.
Expressing her political and cultural outlook, Kelly draws on satirical humour as well as historical narrative to illuminate and tie together aspects of reconciliation, traditional cultural practice and its contemporary continuance.
Kelly’s early career began with making possum skin cloaks and screen printing with fur, both of which remain central to her practice today:
Making possum skin cloaks has provided inspiration for my artistic practice. I am deeply moved by the process of creating them as I consider making cloaks to be an act of reclaiming my heritage. It is particularly important as Aboriginal people were prevented from practising their culture and for me, making these cloaks is an act of living my sovereignty.
– Kelly Koumalatsos, 2014
The story of speaking together flows throughout the exhibition, and while the works are uniquely different, they are connected by Kelly’s Koorie identity and the resilience of her Ancestors. During the development of the exhibition, Kelly spent time with Museums Victoria’s historic photographic collection, engaging with images of Koorie people from across Victoria wearing possum skin cloaks. This research has informed her new works, including prints on paper and fabric, and historic images printed onto blankets. All of the works express the parallels of history, while the works on blankets also link between their practical use and the colonial construct in which they sit. Blankets are objects that replaced the traditional cloaks of Victoria and often carried European disease. The works also refer to the histories and traditions that have been hidden ‘under the blanket’ for many years.
The series The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions looks at the different experiences of reconciliation from Kelly’s perspective and her time working within an often bureaucratic landscape. These works conceptually link to her other screen printed images, as the histories that the images represent inform the realities of today. Through this series the complexity of reconciliation is explored; the works consider a firsthand experience of reconciliation while looking at why we are still to achieve it.
Kelly’s work in Wuregwurung: Speaking Together goes beyond the traditional methods of using possum fur, while remaining deeply embedded with her connection to her Wergaia and Wemba Wemba culture. Kelly’s work challenges the status quo of what contemporary cultural practice is and explores and highlights the diverse aesthetic of Victorian Koorie expression.
You can also see Kelly Koumalatsos talk in the multimedia experience in the Generations section on display in First Peoples, a world-first exhibition telling the story of Aboriginal Victoria from Creation to present day.
Exhibition Curator: Kimberley Moulton