Installation view of Kelly Koumalatsos’ work <em>Portrait of sister in laws; Wemba Wemba Great Aunty Frieda Stewart and Wergaia Great Grandmother Eleanor Stewart</em> 2019 on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023. Image: Ben Moyniha

Kelly Koumalatsos

Kelly Koumalatsos
(Wergaia / Wemba Wemba, b. 1961. Lives and works on Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria)

Kelly Koumalatsos is a senior Wergaia / Wemba Wemba woman and visual artist based in regional Victoria. Her practice merges traditional and contemporary methods and materials – including printmaking and possum skin–cloak-making – drawing on her Aboriginal and Greek heritage to express her political and cultural outlook. Koumalatsos has been an instrumental figure in the contemporary reclamation of the possum skin–cloak-making tradition.

As its title suggests, Portrait of sister in laws; Wemba Wemba Great Aunty Frieda Stewart and Wergaia Great Grandmother Eleanor Stewart, 2019, is a multilayered portrait of Koumalatsos’s matrilineal ancestors, inspired by a photograph taken in the early 1900s. A nineteenth-century blouse is constructed from possum fur–printed tissue paper, representing the strength of the women in Koumalatsos’s family and, as the artist said on NITV radio in 2019, ‘their ability to do more than simply survive the oppression of the times’. Koumalatsos’s grandmother, who the artist describes as ‘a strong and determined woman who had kept her own dictionary of Wergaia language’ was born on the Ebenezer Mission, near Lake Hindmarsh in Victoria, in 1887. The possum-fur print symbolises her grandmother and aunty’s cultural identity, which Koumalatsos says persisted in spite of the colonial setting in which they grew up.

Koumalatsos’s work is held in many collections including the NGV, the Koorie Heritage Trust, the City of Melbourne Arts and Heritage Collection, Yarra Arts, City of Yarra, Maroondah City Council and Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. In late 2019, she was the winner of the prestigious Creative Victoria Award for Excellence in Any Media at the Koorie Art Show.

Kelly Koumalatsos

Melbourne Now textile and printmaking artist Kelly Koumalatsos delves into her art practice, discussing her work Portrait of sister in laws; Wemba Wemba… Read more