6 February 2009: An exhibition presenting the Healing Gathering Possum Skin Cloak, along with work from the Winja Ulupna Aboriginal Art Access Program was officially opened by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Jacko at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Gallery on Tuesday 20 January.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Gabrielle McMullen welcomed Aunty Jacko and the exhibition’s Curator Ann Holt also spoke briefly at the unique exhibition.
The Healing Gathering Possum Skin Cloak is a collective work of art created by Aboriginal women, for Aboriginal women. The cloak was made during two art sessions, held to raise awareness about the high incidence and mortality rate of cervical cancer in Aboriginal women.
At the sessions, supported by Papscreen Victoria, the women talked about sexual health and each was given a panel of the cloak to design.
The project aimed to raise awareness about cervical cancer prevention, improve rates of pap testing and HPV vaccinations, and explore how sexual health could be made more accessible to Aboriginal women.
“As an elder to be able to talk to the younger women and explain how important it is for them was a great experience. As we worked on the coat we had a guitar and sang songs which made it easier for the women to open up,” Aunty Jacko said.
The Winja Ulupna Aboriginal Art Access Program is an Aboriginal women’s residential drug and alcohol recovery house based in St Kilda. The unique program assists women from Winja Ulpna as part of their rehabilitation.
Situated in an old church hall in St Kilda, the program is set up more like a studio space than a class room.
Due to the transient nature of the group, and the stresses of drug and alcohol recovery, there can be a high turnover of students. Some participants only attend one or two classes and are unable to complete paintings. Others stay with the program for many months producing a large body of work.
The exhibition is a small selection of the many paintings that have been produced during the past eight years.
Many women who join the Aboriginal Access Studio have never painted before. Each participant can work at her own pace and choose to have as much or as little intervention and assistance as required when making work.
The possum skin cloak will now be used for culturally significant events, including weddings and funerals.