Since the late 1980s, Maree Clarke (b. 1961) has been instrumental to the revival of southeast Australian Aboriginal material cultural practices. An artist, curator, cultural facilitator and educator, Clarke is a Yorta Yorta, Wamba Wamba, Mutti Mutti and Boonwurrung woman. She grew up in Mildura in northwest Victoria, along the Murray River, but today lives in Yarraville, Melbourne, where her backyard studio is dedicated to producing and passing on cultural knowledge.

Clarke was first prompted to make jewellery in 1987 when asked by the Mildura Aboriginal Corporation to establish an outlet for local and national Aboriginal art.[1] Backgrounded by the Australian bicentenary, when a burgeoning national interest in Aboriginal crafts and cultural practices took hold, Clarke produced necklaces and earrings from seeds and echidna quills; “…basically, I haven’t stopped making jewellery since.”[2] Clarke’s research into south-eastern Aboriginal material culture has since been exhaustive. Her close examination of anthropological texts and ethnographic collections, here in Australia and internationally, has played a significant role in reprising the histories and designs of cultural artefacts of the southeast, including ceremonial body adornments like necklaces and headbands, possum-skin cloaks, shields and kopi – gypsum head caps traditionally worn by women in mourning.

[1]“Fran Edmonds with Maree Clarke”, Indigenous Story, accessed 15 September, 2021

[2]Maree Clarke interviewed by Jane O’Sullivan, “Maree Clarke on connecting with culture and history,” Art Guide, 25 June, 2021

…I love to think of new ways to tell story, through art. Whether that is a three-metre glass eel trap or 3D-printed kangaroo tooth necklace, everything is based on traditional practice.
Maree Clarke in “Maree Clarke’s | Ritual and Ceremony”, National Gallery of Australia, 19 July, 2021

Articles and Books

Clark, Maddee. “Artist Maree Clarke's extraordinary practice celebrated in first solo show by a living Victorian Aboriginal artist at the NGV.Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 13 July, 2021.

Clarke, Maree. “Linear Artist: Maree Clarke.” Powerhouse Museum. 15 November, 2019.

Edgar, Ray.“Cutting-edge technology keeps the tradition of Indigenous jewellery alive.”Sydney Morning Herald. 6 March, 2018.

“Fran Edmonds with Maree Clarke.Indigenous Story. Accessed 15 September, 2021.

“Maree Clarke.” Australian Design Centre. Accessed 15 September, 2021.

“Maree Clarke”.Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Museums Victoria. Accessed 15 September, 2021.

“Maree Clarke.”National Gallery of Australia. Defying Empire: 3rdNational Indigenous Art Triennial. 26 May – 10 September 2017.

O’Sullivan, Jane. “Maree Clarke on connecting with culture and history.” Art Guide. 25 June, 2021.

Websites

“Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories.” National Gallery of Victoria. Learning Resource. Accessed 15 September, 2021.

“Maree Clarke: Ancestral Memories.”National Gallery of Victoria. 25 June 2021 – 6 February 2022.

“Maree Clarke.”Vivien Anderson Gallery.

Videos and Podcasts

“Maree Clarke.”Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. The New National: New Australian Art, 26 March – 22 August, 2021.

Maree Clarke introduces Ancestral Memories.National Gallery of Victoria. 10 August, 2021.

Maree Clarke’s, Ritual and Ceremony, National Gallery of Victoria. 1 October, 2021

Maree Clarke’s | What is a possum-skin cloak, National Gallery of Victoria. 1 October, 2021

Unboxing the museum: River reed necklace| Museums Victoria, 1 October, 2021

  • River reed necklaces have been made and worn by Aboriginal people across many nations. Remember Mefeatures an oversized river reed necklace and comes from a long tradition of ritual and ceremony. Investigate the tradition of river reed necklaces. How has this tradition changed over time? How does Clarke combine the cultural practise of the 1800s and her own contemporary practice? What is the same and what is different? Watch Unboxing the museum: River reed necklaces
  • Compare Clarke’s work to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists who create body adornment such as Lola Greeno, Jeannette James and Grace Lillian Lee. Find where these artists are from on a map and compare what their environment would be like. What materials do each of the artists use? What is similar or different conceptually about their work?
Maree Clarke with Ancestral Memory, 2021, Melbourne © Maree Clarke/Vivien Anderson Gallery/National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Maree Clarke with Ancestral Memory, 2021, Melbourne © Maree Clarke/Vivien Anderson Gallery/National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; photo: Eugene Hyland.

Remember me

Making and responding activities

Tarnanthi is presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia with Principal Partner BHP and support from the Government of South Australia

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Dr. Belinda Howden, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.