Law of the Land: Indigenous artwork hails Sovereignty

A powerful statement of Aboriginal Sovereignty – a 2.4m possum skin cloak forged from cast steel and iron – has been commissioned to provide an enduring spiritual connection to Country at RMIT.

The Law of the Land artwork by prominent Aboriginal artist and RMIT PhD candidate Vicki Couzens was announced as part of the University's 130-year celebrations and the official opening of the $220 million New Academic Street transformation of City campus.

Couzens said the work – currently being created in collaboration with RMIT sculptor and artist Jeph Neale – represented “Aboriginal knowledge and ancestors, and creation of the law of the land”.     

Law of the Land conjures Bunjil the Great Creator Spirit inside a towering possum skin cloak “watching over the Country and making sure that things are OK,” said Couzens of the work, describing it as “evocative and emotive”.

The work is part of a co-curated project guided by Urban Animators: Living Laboratory curator Grace Leone and Indigenous Master of Arts (Arts Management) student Jessica Clark.

RMIT Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff and community were included in consultations to determine the vision for the artwork.

“They shared their ideas about what they would like to see in a permanent Indigenous art work at the University and their feedback was embedded into the artist’s project brief,” Clark said.

Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Education and Engagement, Professor Mark McMillan, said the creative process leading to the final work was exciting.

“This is the first time that we have been able to have a discussion and then a representation of Sovereignty at RMIT,” McMillan said.

“It represents a better future between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and all others and I am really excited to see how people will engage with it.”

Director of RMIT’s Ngarara Willim Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Stacey Campton, said of the work: “It’s nice to think that we have our Creator inside the cloak itself, watching over what is happening in the street or into the buildings”.

New Academic Street Project Sponsor, Pro Vice-Chancellor Science, Engineering and Health and Vice-President Professor Peter Coloe, said Law of the Land was a “fantastic opportunity for RMIT to build its presence and engagement with the Aboriginal community and to bring together staff and students in a really exciting place”.

Law of the Land will be installed outside the new Garden Building in Bowen Street in early 2018.

The artist’s submission, drawings and a traditional Possum Skin Cloak will be on display in the courtyard outside the Building 8 entrance in Bowen Street today (20 September) between 12 midday and 2pm as part of the CelebrateRMIT event. 

Story: Angela Martinkus

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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