Possum-skin cloaks are of enormous cultural value to Aboriginal people in South East Australia. Made from a number of possum pelts sewn together with kangaroo sinew, the cloaks are embellished with sacred designs of identity, status and place. Due to the fragility of the fur, and because Aboriginal people were often buried with them, there are less than five historical cloaks remaining in the world.
The resurgence of possum skin cloak making began in the 1990s, and since then, cloaks have become an iconic part of Australian design. While traditionally cloaks would be worn with the designs facing outwards and the fur inside for warmth, contemporary possum skin cloaks are often reversible, tailored for the body, and can be embellished with a multitude of design features.
NGV curator Myles Russell-Cook speaks with designer Lee Darroch about her newly commissioned Possum Skin Cloak on display in Designing Women.
Lee Darroch is a Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Boon Wurrung artist, designer and community cultural worker whose practice is inspired by the need to continue cultural, spiritual and artistic practices in Australia’s South East.
Myles Russell-Cook is the Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Victoria. Myles is jointly responsible for the National Gallery of Victoria’s collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art and the art of Oceania, Pre-hispanic America and Africa. In addition to this Myles facilitates and supports activities involving the acquisition, display and interpretation, research and public dissemination of Indigenous art within the galleries collection. Much of Myles’ influence and inspiration comes from his maternal Aboriginal heritage in Western Victoria with connections into Tasmania and the Bass Strait Islands.