Installation view of Cassie Leatham’s work <em>Snake chain</em> 2022 on display as part of the Melbourne Now exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023.   Image: Tom Ross

Cassie Leatham

Cassie Leatham
(Taungurung / Dja Dja Wurrung, b. 1974, Sale, Victoria. Lives and works in Boisdale, Victoria)

Cassie Leatham is a multidisciplinary artist, cultural educator, master weaver, designer and jeweller. The Taungurung / Dja Dja Wurrung artist draws inspiration from the cultural practices of her ancestors, researching and transforming techniques perfected by First Nations people from South East Australia. Through her weaving, textiles, ceramics and jewellery work, Leatham preserves cultural knowledge while connecting with ancestors and Country.

Snake chain, 2022, features three tiers of snake bone vertebrae, individually cast in silver, which are threaded onto string made from native pandanus grass fibres and softened with felted balls of possum fur. The first time Leatham saw a snake bone necklace, used in traditional ceremonial dances for healing, was as a child – it was encased behind glass in a local museum. ‘It fascinated me how the snake vertebrae were so delicate but connected’, she explains. After meeting two Elders who made the ceremonial jewellery, Leatham began researching snakes and their habitats herself. Collecting bones from snakes that had been run over by cars, she made her first necklaces using the bones of red-bellied black and eastern brown snakes, connected using materials foraged from local bushland and coastal areas. Leatham’s combination of hand carving and silver casting highlights the intricacy of the native fauna’s vertebrae that captured her childhood imagination. For Leatham, the necklace’s three tiers represent the past, present and future, acknowledging her ancestors and, in the present, creating ceremonial adornments for future generations to encounter, much like the artist did as a girl.

Leatham’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and is held in the collections of the NGV, the Koorie Heritage Trust and the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. In 2020 she was selected to participate in Blak Design, a professional development and mentoring initiative by the Koorie Heritage Trust and developed with the NGV and RMIT University (2021). She also designed a jewellery collection for the NGV design store (2019). Leatham has twice been a finalist in the National Indigenous Fashion Awards and the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.