Canoe Project sparks new stories from important Indigenous collection

A unique collaboration between Melbourne’s Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) is breathing new life into an important collection of Indigenous art and artefacts.

The Canoe Project - Stories from the Collection brings together fascinating objects from the KHT archive and new oral history films recorded with six Indigenous artists and activists, revealing new stories about items of great beauty and heritage.

Displayed in the four-metre-long Canoe Table at KHT’s Federation Square gallery, the objects were chosen to illustrate an important aspect of the personal, cultural and artistic lives of the participants, all of whom have artworks of their own included in the KHT’s collection.

Items featured in the exhibition include echidna quill and kangaroo tooth jewellery, stone tools, axe heads and exquisite flowers made from birds’ feathers. Visitors will be able to watch the films on their smart phones via unique QR codes as they discover new objects within the drawers of the Canoe Table.

KHT Assistant Curator Zenzi Clark said the project made strong links to community and country through the very personal stories shared by the participants.

“Each person chose items that have real meaning to them and, through the films, we learn not only about the objects but about the lives and country of artists in our community,” she said.

Penelope Lee, Education and Outreach Manager with CHE, said both organisations shared an interest in how objects could play a key role in exploring history, emotion and memories.

“Objects help shape our identities, past and present, and they can embody memories, negotiate absences, and mediate relationships with others,” she said. “Objects provide a tangible link to the past, through our sensory exploration of them,” she said.

Organisers would like to thank the artists and activists who participated in this project: Mick Harding, Kelly Koumalatsos, Marilyne Nicholls, Brendan Kennedy, Glenda Nicholls and Jefa Greenaway.

The exhibition opens on October 14.

Image: Stone tools, Koorie Heritage Trust collection, Graham Baring 2009