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Written by Freja Carmichael, Guest Author and First Nations Curator, 2022
As a Ngugi women from the Quandamooka people, my engagement with First Nations cultural material in the Queensland Museum collection has enabled connections with stories, people, Country and place. This began for me during an internship with Queensland Museum in 2010, where I had to access to the collection for first time. This was a significance experience in understanding further the collection’s cultural significance. I was in the presence of deep histories from across Country and place and was introduced to cultural material from near and afar.
In this collection, I especially connected with the stories to Quandamooka Country in fibre works that included woven looped and knotted flat bags. Previously, I had seen imagery in books and read descriptions in archives of the beautiful old bags woven on Country and neighbouring nations; the bags that were skilfully made and important to cultural and daily life, community and for exchange. In the space of meeting and seeing cultural material, I could hold the past in my hands, breathe in the scents of Country in the woven wetland reeds and immerse in the intricate techniques of past generations.
The reconnection to the spirit, story and visual practices in cultural material inspired my journey as a curator to bring forward the cultural importance of First Nations fibre work through contemporary art. I commenced with Gathering Strands at Redland Art Gallery, developed between 2014-2016. This exhibition concentrated on Quandamooka weaving practices, alongside contemporary First Nations fibre practices occurring in what is currently known as southeast Queensland. The thread between cultural material and community was active and present in this project; community workshops were held with Quandamooka Elders and inter-generational women to strengthen and return to weaving practices through the sharing of knowledge and by connecting with cultural material held in both local and national collections.
My work as a curator has continued to celebrate First Nations fibre practices from across Country and cultures, while also working intergenerationally with my family. I have continued to visit cultural material in collections with family, community, and First Nations artists. In these experiences, stories continue to be uncovered and connections are strengthened. This shows why having access to our cultural material is significant to the processes of reconnecting, reclaiming, and honouring Ancestral stories, knowledges, and cultural practices. The more we are able to connect with the past, the more our stories can be remembered, shared, and carried into the future.