27 July 2023

Possum tails and connections to culture are a hit for Wagga artist on the rise

| Chris Roe
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Artist Juanita McLauchlan (right) with curator Julie Ewington

Artist Juanita McLauchlan (right) with curator Julie Ewington: Photo: Supplied.

2023 has been a big year for Wagga Wagga artist Juanita McLauchlan.

Her first solo exhibition Gii Mara Bula – Heart Hand Also is currently hanging at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and the Gamilaraay artist has just been named a finalist in the National Capital Art Prize.

“I entered the sustainability section – which is such a wide section – and I thought about the sustainability of culture,” she said, explaining that the piece Dhurrun Nhiigiliirr represents 65,000 years of First Nations resilience and generations of living in tune with nature.

READ ALSO Art gallery set to launch winter exhibition featuring local artists

Established in Canberra in 2021, The National Capital Art Prize is open to Australian artists and has a prize pool of more than $45,000.

With a background in printmaking, Juanita has expanded into textiles and body adornments made from recycled woollen blankets and ethically sourced possum skins.

“I’m really pleased this necklace got in. It’s roughly 156 centimetres and it’s made from possum skins and tails,” Juanita said.

“I’ve used the tails to join each of the links and it’s just this beautiful large fluff ball that is just gorgeous, so I’m really excited.”

Juanita McLauchlan's work

Juanita McLauchlan’s work Dhurrun Nhiigiliirr is a finalist in the Australian Capital Art Prize. Photo: Supplied.

Juanita has enjoyed branching out, and her exhibition at the Wagga Art Gallery includes a series of large-scale prints and decorative pieces.

“With printmaking, you’re restricted to paper size and I’ve always liked printing on different surfaces,” she explained.

“Experimenting on different things like material and foil has really pushed the idea of how to present something and going to a grander scale has been rather exciting.”

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The possum skins come from New Zealand where the Australian omnivores have become a huge environmental problem.

“The damage the possums have been doing in New Zealand is horrendous,” she said.

“They eat the eggs of the native bird and small lizards and other little creatures and from 2050 they want them to be totally eradicated from New Zealand.

“So I’m doing my little bit to help that come along and it fits with the sustainability theme.”

Juanita's first solo exhibition

Juanita’s first solo exhibition Gii Mara Bula – Heart Hand Also is hanging at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. Photo: Supplied.

The works embrace elements of Juanita’s Aboriginal and European heritage and incorporate ideas of culture and family.

“I’ve recently started representing the size of my grandmother in my necklaces,” she explained.

“She was quite short, but also quite powerful, quite protective and quite staunch and I wanted to be embraced and to feel the weight of that in some of the necklaces that I’ve been making.

“It’s an idea I’ve had about having that body and that story on you.”

Juanita McLauchlan's body adornments and necklaces are made from pollen blanket and possum skin

Juanita McLauchlan’s body adornments and necklaces are made from woollen blanket and possum skin. Photo: Supplied.

Reflecting on a big year, Juanita was overwhelmed by the opportunities she had had to grow as an artist.

“Last year I was offered the exhibition at the gallery and was then lucky enough to win a Windmill Trust Scholarship and then a lot of things have happened with so much beautiful support from the community, the gallery, friends and family, and I have been mentored by (curator) Julie Ewington,” she said.

“I just can’t believe it to be honest!”

The National Capital Art Prize will be awarded on 14 September and the exhibition opens to the public in Canberra from 16 September.

You can find out more and vote in the people’s choice awards here.

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