From Rosalie Favell:
WRAPPED IN CULTURE was a collaborative project that brought together ten Indigenous artists from Australia and Canada. Working over the course of three weeks in November 2017, the artists created contemporary versions of an Australian Aboriginal possum skin cloak and a buffalo robe. This revives two culturally distinct, yet similar, artistic traditions that were used historically for both sacred and practical purposes. The artists worked collectively to complete the pieces from start to finish, including the design, construction and implementation, while the visitors from the community of Ottawa were invited to join in and learn about the history of these two culturally significant textiles. The robe and cloak are also objects that hold deeper meaning related to the identities of the artists, the significance of family and place, and the importance of intercultural exchange; creating kinship and understanding through the acts of making, sharing, and teaching.
The public was encouraged to participate with the artists in the preparations of the skins by sewing the possum skins together. The designs and layout of the cloak and robe were created by the invited artists. As the project neared completion the public were shown how to make pray bundles that were later placed on the cloak and robe by the artists.
From Leah Snyder:
As member of the Ottawa arts community I appreciated the generousity of the WRAPPED IN CULTURE artists who shared their creative wisdom with myself and so many others who participated as the invited public. The process was informal yet efficient and along with many quiet moments of contemplative working we also shared much laughter.
Those of us who gathered in the initial days were provided with insight as to the cultural history of the possum cloaks by emerging artist Mitch Mahoney along with his aunt, internationally renowned artist Maree Clarke. Mitch’s father Wade then guided us through the piecing together of the cloak. Volunteers from the gatherings at City Hall and Ottawa University then ‘blanket stitched’ about thirty-five pelts together to create the robe upon which each artist would contribute symbols representing their culture.
While we sewed, the artists collectively mapped out the design that would be etched into the buffalo robe. Artist Adrian Stimson shared with us the importance of the buffalo to the Blackfoot. As the design was collaged onto a large sheet of paper with the outline of the buffalo skin what emerged was each artist’s visual culture. What was beautiful about witnessing this part of the process was the fluidity and ease by which each symbol was situated by the others. Over the course of the three weeks we would witness the story of this coming together emerge from the skins of both the buffalo and the possums.
From the location of City Hall the project moved to Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) where we worked in a open lab environment that Carleton students, staff and others could come by to observe or participate. The artists were always ready to accommodate people’s questions.
Using wood burning tools the narrative that came from WRAPPED IN CULTURE and the bringing together of these artists from many different homelands was etched into the skins. The designs, outlined in pencil, were traced over with the heat of the irons by many hands over our time at CUAG. At any given time Mitch along with his sister Molly and their dad Wade could be seen busy at work on the skins along with Adrian, Maree and artist Meryl McMaster. At the same time this was taking place, artist Barry Ace shared his knowledge of beading with the other participating artists. All the artists designed and contributed to the beading of their own medallion that was then placed on the final possum cloak. The team of Barry Ace, Vicki West, Kerri Clarke and daughter Molly sat steadily for days, threading tiny seed beads onto needles to ensure all the medallions would be ready for the final unveiling. Barry also created stunning medallions that would be adhered to the buffalo robe. The final touch of grace was the contribution of those who came out to the final event and made prayer bundles of offerings of the medicines of tobacco and cedar that were then incorporated into the both the Cloak and Robe.
Although the final result of the robe and cloak was beautiful to behold what I will remember most about this project is the time spent growing closer to each of the talented artists involved. It was a community arts project at its finest and one could see the impact made on those of us who both participated and had the opportunity to hear the artists share their stories. What stands out the most is the warmth of the community that gathered for WRAPPED IN CULTURE.
IMAGE CREDITS: Top & bottom courtesy of Leah Snyder | Gallery images as noted.