gii mara bula/ Heart Hand-also exhibition at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.
Aunty Cheryl Penrith with guma-nhu/Broken. yuluurrin-may-bidi/Big Loss (2022-23). Two large necklaces: woollen blankets, contact printed with Australian indigenous plants, and screen-printed with acrylic; brushtail possum fur, cotton thread. Largest: length 1030 x 3.5cm (dimensions variable); installed length 300cm Smallest: length 80 x 2.5cm (dimensions variable); installed length:196cm.
guma-nhu/Broken yuluurrin-may-bidi/Big loss gayarragi-laya/Finding banggabaa wagirrma-y/White washed yuraldaya/Growing (2022-23). Five large necklaces: woollen blankets, contact printed with Australian indigenous plants, and screen-printed with acrylic; brushtail possum fur, cotton thread. Largest: length 1030 x 3.5cm (dimensions variable); installed length 300cm Smallest: length 80 x 2.5cm (dimensions variable); installed length:196cm.
yuruum bulaarr/Two paths (2022). Woollen blanket, contact printed with Australian indigenous plants. A: 257 x 75cm; 257 x 82cm.
giirr ngiyani gulagamalaylaya/We will always hold each other (2022). Woollen blanket contacted printed with Australian indigenous plants and using iron mordant, brushtail possum fur, seven Australian copper coins. 119 x 159 x 8cm (dimensions variable).
gulagamaldaya/Hold (shoulder wrap) (2023). Woollen blankets, undyed and contact printed with she-oak needles; 12 brushtail possum tails and fur. Overall diameter: 95cm (variable); largest: 9cm diameter x 3cm wide; smallest: 5 cm diameter x 1.5cm wide.
Photography: James Farley
Juanita McLauchlan’s new exhibition is a testament to the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery’s commitment to culturally appropriate showcases for the Wiradjuri and wider First Nations communities. The opening night of the exhibition featured a meaningful Welcome to Country, followed by speeches from politicians including the Wagga Wagga Mayor and state member, who acknowledged the monumental and tactile nature of McLauchlan’s predominantly textile works in giimara-bula/Heart Hand-also.
McLauchlan’s giimara-bula/Heart Hand-also incorporates ethically sourced and stitched possum skin quilts, bush-dyed diaphanous textiles, and meticulously hand-worked four-metre-high possum skin necklaces. While the exhibition may not appear at first glance to contain printmaking, the hand of the printmaker is evident on the blankets and other textiles. Impressions of red box, casuarina, and Tasmanian blue gum in rich blacks are contact-printed, merging seamlessly with the material.
McLauchlan, a Gamilaraay artist, underwent professional printmaking training at the print studios established by Andrew Totman at NSW TAFE Riverina Campus in Wagga Wagga. Treahna Hamm, a Yorta Yorta artist, studied printmaking under Manni Redlich at Charles Sturt University. Both artists’ mark-making techniques bear the influence of their experiences with presses. Additionally, both artists have incorporated possum skins into their practice, reclaiming culturally significant traditional practices.
McLauchlan holds an Advanced Diploma and has had two solo exhibitions, Hidden Hollows and Papers (2018/19) at TAFE campus Gallery 43. In these exhibitions, she explored her Gamilaraay heritage, which had been kept a family secret due to the denial of Aboriginal identity, language and culture. Her works showcased rich black woodcuts and later evolved into rocky shapes in collagraph, often folded into three-dimensional objects. McLauchlan was also the winner of the 2019 3D Derivan Matisse TAFE NSW Art Prize and a finalist in the 2022 Ravenswood Woman’s Art Prize.
The themes that resonate in the exhibition are the artist’s love for the process of stitching, printing, constructing and folding. The gallery is filled with textures, showcasing McLauchlan’s technical prowess in achieving a deep, rich and intensely beautiful black through her printmaking studies. Moreover, the works convey a personal and visual representation of absence and loss, central to each piece. The rugs and textiles, intricately bordered with impressed leaf motifs, often reveal a central void, while the necklaces also feature a functionally appropriate central void, inviting the possibility of being worn. These void spaces may allude to lost heritage, serve as a blank canvas for future generations to paint their own stories, or represent the existential void within us all.
The exhibition received financial assistance through the 2022 Windmill Trust Scholarship and was curated by Julie Ewington. Ewington has written an informative catalogue essay, which can be accessed on the gallery’s website.
Juanita McLauchlan: gii mara bula/ Heart Hand-also is at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery until 20 August.
Dr. Thomas A. Middlemost is Art Curator at Charles Sturt University Art Collection
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