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How artist residency has cloaked law firm in Indigenous histories

Carol McGregor’s art explores the intersection between history, the law, and Indigenous knowledges. Her latest exhibition Tides of History is a survey of work which reclaims Indigenous material cultures through possum skin cloaks and is displayed as part of Gadens Lawyers’ Artist in Residence programme.

Sep 07, 2021, updated Sep 07, 2021
Carol McGregor. Exhibition view: Tides of History, Gadens Brisbane (Image: Carl Warner)

Carol McGregor. Exhibition view: Tides of History, Gadens Brisbane (Image: Carl Warner)

McGregor is of Wadawurrung, Kulin Nation and Scottish descent and uses material histories through the traditional possum skin cloak to reclaim portions of Indigenous history destroyed by colonisation.

McGregor said the cloaks were traditionally a form of individual identity and an important facet of cultural life.

“You were given a few skins when you were born and they were inscribed with totems, maps of Country or tribal designs. As you grew your cloak grew with you, so you were wrapped in your own designs and your own stories,” she said.

They are a really significant part of cultural identity but only three traditional possum skin cloaks (and a few decorated possum skins) remain in the world today. However, the cultural practice has not been forgotten or lost and today many Aboriginal people are continuing the practice of possum skin cloak making.

“Making my family’s contemporary possum skin cloak was a powerful healing process: although separated by time and country, each generation touches another to pass on not only their DNA but also their knowledge,” said McGregor.

“Accordingly, my family cloak is a testament to personal oral histories, cultural stories and continuing family journeys.”

McGregor’s survey of work also includes pieces such as Not Silenced, a work exploring written histories and perspectives via 6,000 STAEDTLER pencils with individually drilled feathers held within them.

Carol McGregor, not silenced, 2013. 6000 x STAEDTLER pencils, emu feathers, paper, found objects: table and school desk. (Image: Carl Warner)

Tides of History is a survey of her work over a number of years and is currently on display at Gadens Lawyers as part of their Artist in Residence programme.

Jenna Baldock, Curator of the Gadens Artist in Residence Programme, said supporting McGregor’s work was part of Gadens’ commitment to supporting local artists but also as part of their goal for Indigenous inclusion within their Reconciliation Action Plan 2021.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge to her artwork which I knew would promote important discussions and take Gadens Brisbane Staff and clients on a journey of discovery,” said Baldock.

“During her time at Gadens, Carol did a number of possum skin workshops where she spoke about the significant history of this practice, as well as a Bush Tucker and Coming to Know Country workshop with local artist Jody Rallah (Biri Gubba, Warangu and Yuggera peoples).

“I am not aware of any other firms that have the same dedication to the arts as Gadens Brisbane. Chairman Paul Spiro has really spearheaded the firm’s interest in the arts and sees the value in supporting the development of our local arts landscape.

Carol McGregor, Journey Cloak, 2012. Recycled boards, acrylic, natural fibres. Exhibition: Tides of History, Gadens Brisbane. (Image: Carl Warner)

“I have worked with a number of offices to build their corporate collections. I would love to see more corporate firms host artist talks, workshops, and exhibitions to grow their staff’s knowledge and perspective the way Gadens Brisbane has.”

Director of Gadens Corporate Advisory team, Lara Cresser, said the Artist in Residence programme allows the firm to go on a deep dive into an artists’ practice and learn from their unique wealth of knowledge.

“We hold a series of workshops with our Artist in Residence where our staff get the opportunity to take a break, learn hands on, and return to their work refreshed with a new perspective,” she said.

“Our staff have been able to grow with Carol’s knowledge as her exhibition considers the roles of history, law, and power in shaping the contemporary landscape, experience, and rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Carol’s work speaks to the impact of politics and legal structures on her people’s history—the firm’s setting has deepened these discourses and this reading of her work.”

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