THE works of Boisdale-based artist Cassie Leatham will be the subject of a new exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust, at Federation Square in Melbourne.
Baga-k Gaabi Brunga Biik, or Symbols in Sand, will be Ms Leatham’s first solo exhibition at the prestigious gallery, though her work has been shown there before.
Several large installations, including a display of her famous midden pots with sand drawings, an emu feather skirt, a kangaroo cloak, and a huge Bunjil the Eagle sculpture, will be among the highlights, as well a look at her creative process.
Speaking at her home, Ms Leatham gave the Gippsland Times a tour of her large backyard, showing just how personal her work is.
There are plans for expansion, with a block next door to be made into an open air museum and cultural heritage hotspot.
She plans to invite school groups to learn traditional indigenous ways, and engage people in the post-colonial history — there is evidence of wartime trenches that were dug for the primary school, as well as huge trees that acted as lookout towers for Gunaikurnai people.
There are dozens of bush tucker plants, all of which are used daily — the Gippsland Times was lucky enough to sample home-milled wattle seed scones with strawberry and quandong jam and lemon myrtle cream.
Hidden places in her garden combine Westernstyle art studios with traditional methods of preparing natural items, like bones or feathers.
It’s all part of Ms Leatham’s ongoing effort to tell her story.
“This is me, it’s my culture, it’s my journey, and it’s my way,” she said.
“I’m not pretending to be anyone else, this is who I am — it’s a bit of a battle (sometimes).”
The gallery show is also a way to bring indigenous and non-indigenous people together to share stories, something Ms Leatham is passionate about.
“To break down barriers and bring everyone together, I want to see us together and working as one,” she said.
“By showing my works, it’s taking a step back, I’ve always wanted to know about the ways of my people and my ancestors, and being in their footprints, and taking myself back.
“Some of the artworks I’ve got to go into the show are based on Angus McMillan murdering and massacring the indigenous people.
“It’s a story I’ve always been telling, so I thought why not highlight it, but also have all the traditional works as well.”
Koorie Heritage Trust curatorial manager Charlotte Christie said there were plenty of Gippsland-based artists at the gallery, but this was the first time people could really engage with Ms Leatham’s work in the setting.
“We’ve had a long term relationship with Cassie,” she said.
“ She’s done workshops and talks, so we’re really excited to have a full exhibition of her work.
“We’re trying to bring a bit of Cassie into the gallery to show her works off at their best.”
Exhibiting her work locally has been a challenge for Ms Leatham, but she hopes people in the area will take some time in Melbourne to have a look.
“You can’t (see my work locally), you have to come here, though I have little things at places like Segue in Stratford, but not my real body of work,” she explained.
“This is where the Koorie Heritage Trust looked in and said, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to show this stuff off.”
Next up, once the exhibition opens, Ms Leatham hopes to bring more educational experiences to schools across the state, and will soon feature in an episode of Gardening Australia.
It all begins on March 10 at 2pm, with an opening event, and the exhibition will run until May 13.