Quandamooka woman Elisa Jane Carmichael, or Leecee, as she’s known to her nearest and dearest, is a multidisciplinary artist who honours her salt-water heritage through her practice. She incorporates materials collected from Country, embraces traditional techniques, and expresses contemporary adaptations through painting, weaving, and textiles. She comes from a family of artists and curators, and works closely with her female kin to revive, nurture and preserve cultural knowledge and practice.
Leecee is a descendant of the Ngugi people, one of three clans who are the traditional custodians of Quandamooka, also known as Yoolooburrabee—people of the sand and sea. Quandamooka Country comprises the waters and lands of and around Moreton Bay in south-east Queensland.
Leecee is the star of our latest photoshoot that features our new Seljak Lune blanket. The Lune blanket is inspired by the tides and the skies of the Great Barrier Reef, and it is a reminder of the fragility of life cycles that are both within and beyond our control.
Leecee with the new Seljak Lune blanket (wearing NICO)
With Leecee’s connection to salt-water country and Lune’s ode to the tide and the reef, we thought she’d be the perfect person to show off the new blanket.
Leecee’s practice reflects on visual ancestral experiences of Quandamooka Bujong Djara (Mother Earth), to share the beauty, power, and importance of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) yesterday, today and tomorrow—ngayigany, ngayiganya, ngayigawa (seen, seeing, will see).
After we spent a beautiful afternoon by the ocean capturing Leecee and the Lune blanket, we asked her a few questions about her practice, her connection to country and what’s next in her creative pursuits.
As a Quandamooka woman from Minjerribah, can you tell us about your connection to the water?
Water provides for us and protects us. We travel across the bay to the island and being on the water is home. We must keep our waters safe like they have kept us safe for hundreds of thousands of years. My grandma would say “water is the living springs of Mother Earth”.
Your poem 'Ngayigany, ngayiganya, ngayigawa (seen, seeing, will see), are the words that accompany a recent body of work of yours. What does the poem mean to you and how it is encompassed in your work?
Ngayigany, ngayiganya, ngayigawa is a poem I wrote when I was living in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). I wrote it reflecting on home, dreaming about being back on Country on Minjerribah. Walking through the landscape in the footsteps of our ancestors, weaving with our precious reeds with Mum, connecting with our ancestors hands and watching the spirit of Country dance through the salt-water waves. My practice is inspired by the abundance of Country. Three of the pieces relating to my poem are on display in Queensland Art Gallery in the Australian collection rehang.
You can read the full poem here.
The Lune blanket and Leecee at the beach
We know that you can weave pretty much anything (including your own hair that you made into a yarn once!). How have you developed your weaving skills? Our Quandamooka weaving practices were interrupted as a result of colonisation. Cultural practices were forced to stop. I didn’t grow up weaving. It has only been in the last 10 years we have learnt and connected with the precious weaves of our ancestors through research, yarning, workshops and visiting museum collections.
The women in your family are also weavers. Can you tell us about how you collaborate and work with your family members?
My mum Sonja is a master weaver and my sister Freja is a curator. Mum has revived our Quandamooka loop and diagonal knot weave that wasn’t passed down our Grannie’s generation because of colonisation. Freja works with communities all over Australia curating beautiful Fibre Art projects. Freja has curated an exhibition coming up in September at the Institute of Modern Art titled ‘long water: fibre stories’ and Mum and I have done a woven collaboration for this show.
How have you adapted to the uncertainty of Covid-19, which is undoubtedly one of the trickiest times for artists?
Finding balance! Moving slow but keeping on track. Making time to experiment and research. Lots of my projects have been paused but I am still working away and embracing the extra time.
What are you working on and looking forward to for the rest of 2020?
I’m working on some of my most exciting projects to date (unfortunately I can’t share them just yet!). I’m working on projects based in galleries and also for the outside world. Mum and I are working on a collaboration creating cyanotypes (a photographic printing process) which is something new for us. They are deep like the ocean and allow the viewer to see inside the weaves. You can see our work at ‘long water: fibre stories’ at the Institute of Modern Art which opens September 5. I also have a solo show, titled ‘Threads’ at the Queensland Museum which opened on June 22.
Sonja Carmichael and Elisa Jane Carmichael, Jalo Boma (after the burn) tears from the sea (detail), 2019, Ungaire, ghost net, discarded wire, silk wire, synthetic fibres, fishing line, discarded plastics, fish scales, lomandra and raffia, 135cm high x 100 cm ground plane diameter. Photo: Louis Lim. Courtesy of the artists and Onespace Gallery.